Criminal Justice Careers: Reality vs. Myth

By Michelle Fabio

Crime shows are some of the most popular on television, but how close do they come to the reality of criminal justice careers?

Television shows focus on the most exciting, compelling, and, well, entertaining aspects of jobs. If you’re watching and considering a criminal justice career as seen on TV, remember that every job also has its ordinary tasks, too-but who would want to watch a detective doing mountains of paperwork?

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Read on to learn more about three criminal justice careers covered on television.

Crime Scene Investigator Shows like “Bones” and “CSI” have helped make forensic science cool and the job of crime scene investigator one of the hottest criminal justice careers out there.Crime scene investigators, also called forensic science technicians, crime scene technicians, or crime scene analysts, collect, identify, analyze, classify and document physical evidence with the goal of solving crimes. They also write reports and may testify in court.On “CSI” and “Bones,” crimes are usually solved within the span of an hour, but in reality, crime scene investigation can move painstakingly slow-and many crimes are never solved at all. Also, depending on the department, some crime scene investigators spend nearly all their time in laboratories and do much less “connecting of the evidence” than portrayed on TV.

Many of the duties portrayed on forensic science TV shows are quite accurate, though, and one important thing that the different versions of “CSI” gets exactly right is that some crime scene investigators are police officers and others aren’t; this varies by jurisdiction.

  1. FBI Special Agent From “The X-Files” and “Criminal Minds” to classic films like “Silence of the Lambs,” the job of FBI special agent has become legendary on both the big and small screen.FBI special agents’ job duties differ depending on their division, but typical tasks include gathering and analyzing evidence and intelligence information, interviewing sources, making arrests and other typical law enforcement activities.TV and film portrayals of FBI special agents show them solving case after case, sometimes even more than one per hour. They also seem to chase around criminals and fugitives with guns blazing, keeping the country free from danger in rather dramatic ways.While FBI special agents certainly work hard to keep us safe, much of what they do happens at desks with computers-including paperwork documenting what they’ve accomplished throughout the day.
  2. Bounty Hunter Ever since “Dog the Bounty Hunter” made its way to television, interest in becoming a bounty hunter has reached an all-time high.Bounty hunters are hired by bail bond agencies as independent law enforcement agents to find, arrest and transport fugitives who have skipped bail back to the jurisdiction from which they fled; they then collect a fee, called a “bounty,” which is often a percentage of the fugitive’s bail.Dog makes bounty hunting look like a fast-paced, exciting job, but in reality catching fugitives can move slowly-and actually may involve a lot of sitting around and waiting.And while it is true that many bounty hunters may carry firearms in limited circumstances, other more mundane tasks include performing background checks, collecting and analyzing phone records, tracing license plates, and staying informed about laws of jurisdictions to which they will be traveling.

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