8 CRIMINAL JUSTICE
Pat Eklund graduated with an undergraduate degree in sociology and several hundred hours of "time" spent as an intern in a local state correctional facility. According to Pat, "That time and those experiences in prison have been the springboard for my career in criminal justice. I was being prepared in ways that I did not know or understand at the time; and I am even now still discovering the lessons I learned then." Underlying these experiences was his sociological perspective. Many people can occupy the same context and experience the same situation, but what they "see" in that situation is dependent upon what they are prepared to see. "I am always looking for why things happen, what's underneath someone's behavior. This is where my degree in sociology has proved invaluable," concluded Pat.
Since graduation five years ago Pat has made steady progress within the broad field of criminal justice. Pat began his career by working with children who were wards of the state for various reasons. For this residential program Pat had been prepared by research he had conducted while a correctional intern. As an intern Pat had an opportunity to focus on the prison intake process, including opportunities to examine background files. Pat reported that, "In these files I discovered common juvenile histories, most of which evidenced significant family problems. This led to my first job with children where I hoped to have some influence during this critical stage of development."
After about a year Pat moved more directly into criminal justice when he took a job with a county juvenile home. Here Pat worked with juveniles referred or sentenced by a juvenile court. "These were kids whose next stop would very likely be an adult correctional facility. Just like many of the young guys I processed while an intern." In this position Pat began to realize how much social contextual variables influenced the life opportunities of the young people with whom he was working. "I came to the conclusion that these kids and their families needed to be reached before the kids were sent to a juvenile facility." For Pat this meant getting closer to the community and for him to work in law enforcement as a police officer.
In the last three years Pat has worked as a county sheriff's deputy; and presently he is a city police officer. "My objective," said Pat, "was to be a police officer in a town or city. This way I could begin to apply my academic preparation in sociology to the larger problems of community life." As a county officer Pat was not able to focus his work on any one locale, and therefore was always encountering new situations. But, as Pat noted, "As a community police officer I am in a position to study the smaller patterns as well as the larger structures which influence lives. In one sense I feel like a participant–observer. I am a police officer, but I'm constantly observing like a sociologist. In fact, there is very little about being a police officer that is not enhanced by seeing things as a sociologist."
For example, Pat describes the domestic disturbance as one of the most frequent, and potentially, one of the most dangerous calls to which police respond. "Unfortunately too many officers make a bad situation worse by the way they have already defined domestic disturbances. If you assume ahead of time that these problems are always the fault of the husband, father, or boyfriend, then everything you will do as an officer will target that person. What happens is that the person targeted (the husband, for example) senses this right away and can become afraid or defensive. This is when a bad situation can become worse, which might even mean dangerous." Body language is one variable which Pat now emphasizes. This would include keeping an open body posture with arms at the side instead of folded. The point, according to Pat, "is that when there is a family problem there is always more than one point of view, and there is usually legitimacy in each person's definition. You have to communicate that you are willing to listen to all sides of the issue."
One of the larger structural issues a criminal justice professional should know is how the community is arranged according to socioeconomic status, ethnic identity, and age. Each of these variables is especially important for understanding specific conflict situations. Pat notes, "It is always important to understand the effects of stereotypes on how people perceive a community problem. And it's important to know when you are simply confronting a stereotype in the line of your work. For example, witnesses to a crime will overwhelmingly describe the criminal as male or minority. But by asking questions carefully you are able to get a more meaningful description, often one at odds with the minority variable."
It is also important to understand that a community is composed of relational networks. According to Pat, "I actually seek out the networks because it is through them that I can stay in touch with what is happening. Knowing these networks is like understanding the family. Each has its own pattern and priorities. And it is here that the lives of young people can really be influenced. Hopefully, they can be influenced before they end up being institutionalized."
So far we have seen how Pat has applied his studies in sociology to his work in criminal justice. And, we have seen that Pat has launched a reasonable career path. Three general questions remain. What kind of income can one expect with this career path? Is the undergraduate degree in sociology sufficient education? What recommendations does Pat offer to those who might be inclined to follow in his footsteps?
Pat's income has been steady over the five years since his graduation. His children's home job paid approximately $17,000 per year, while the county juvenile home paid approximately $22,000 per year. His first job in law enforcement as a county sheriff's deputy paid about $20,000. In his first year as a city police officer his base salary was approximately $33,000, with overtime and extra duties adding up to $5,000 more. Pat is quick to note that police salaries do vary according to community size and region. In his case, Pat sees his income as "quite livable."
The undergraduate degree in sociology was "absolutely right" for the career he has had and, anticipates having, according to Pat. The internships proved especially valuable in securing the first jobs. While no longer at the youth homes these jobs provided Pat with an opportunity "to test my ideas." Pat was able both to learn from these positions, and to set his future course from what he had learned. Had he gone directly into law enforcement Pat suggests he might not have been as well prepared as he is now. Yet, all aspects of his career are tied to his undergraduate preparations in sociology. Pat notes that, "While I have had several different job titles, applied sociology is what I do." Among other things Pat now sees himself as especially adaptable. "I was prepared by my degree for the necessity of continued learning and adaptation to change."
For those considering a career in the broad field of criminal justice Pat has some advice. He says that the idea of continuous learning and adaptability suggests that persons entering the field of criminal justice should be prepared to complete additional formal learning. In each job Pat has either been required to take additional training or has chosen to do so. For example, prior to assuming his sheriff's deputy duties Pat was enrolled in a twelve week academy. Interestingly, Pat suggests that only about 25% of the academy focussed on specifically legal issues or practices such as knowing legal codes, weapons, etc. The most significant work of the academy was preparing future officers for dealing with people. He observed that, "We spent a lot of time role– playing and modeling people's behavior. Group dynamics were continuously stressed." In addition, emphasis was given to emerging issues of cultural diversity. According to Pat, "If you want to go into law enforcement you need to learn that there are other patterns of living, and it is up to the officer to adapt."
Aside from the academy there are many types of continuing – education opportunities and/or requirements. Recently Pat attended a seminar on interviewing and interrogation. The distinctions are important and require different kinds of officer–subject relations. When questioned about promotion Pat reported that additional formal education would be required. For example, a Masters of Criminal Justice degree would qualify one for a chief or department chief position. Interestingly, many current criminal justice programs have had their origins in sociology departments!
For those considering a career in the broad field of criminal justice Pat offers the following recommendations. Focus on degree programs which emphasize human relations. For this he said, sociology is a natural. You must understand cultural diversity and be adaptable to different cultural contexts. Foreign language capability, especially Spanish, is nearly essential. Other languages are emphasized according to local needs. For example, southeast Asian languages (Vietnamese, Laotian, Cambodian, Chinese, etc.) are needed in areas like California. In Los Angeles alone 186 different languages and dialects are spoken! Computer literacy is a must. Pat now has a lap–top computer in his squad car. He composes his written reports quickly and these are transmitted directly and immediately to the department for analysis. This way there is no lag–time between an event and the recording of that event. Obviously, assumed by this development is the need for good writing–skills. Oral communication is also essential if one is to conduct good community relations. In other words, all the skills developed within a degree in sociology are skills essential to a career in criminal justice. Finally, Pat strongly recommends internships. "It is in the internship that you begin to make the connections between your coursework and your career."
Careers Page |