Careers in Criminal Justice

May is Public Safety month at University of Maryland University College’s (UMUC) Office of Career Services. Throughout the month, we are highlighting the University’s public safety experts to examine career and industry trends, and provide students and alumni a chance to learn about different career paths within this industry.

patrick bradley headshotRecently, UMUC Criminal Justice and Legal Studies Program Chair Patrick Bradley answered questions about career trends and opportunities in criminal justice and legal students. Bradley joined the Baltimore City Police Department as a patrol officer in 1970. In 1994, he retired from the position of major/director of the Police Academy, to accept an appointment as deputy director for the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commissions. Ten years later, Mr. Bradley was appointed executive director and was responsible for the certification and training of over 32,000 police and correctional officers, parole and probation agents and juvenile justice employees throughout Maryland, and was responsible for the operation of the 700 acre Public Safety Education and Training Center in Sykesville. In June, 2009 Mr. Bradley was appointed assistant director for Training for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services’ Commitment Division. About this same time Bradley began teaching for UMUC at both the undergraduate and graduate school levels.  In 2011 he accepted the position as academic director for the University of Maryland University College Undergraduate School’s Criminal Justice and the Legal Studies programs.

Mr. Bradley received his Bachelor of Science degree in Law Enforcement and Corrections from Penn State University and a master’s degree in Liberal Arts from the Johns Hopkins University. He is also a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Law and is a member of the Maryland Bar. Additionally he holds a graduate certificate in Teaching in Higher Education from Johns Hopkins. Bradley is a graduate of the 114th Session of the FBI National Academy, and a member of numerous local and national professional organizations committed to public safety training. He is also a past-president of the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training. In 2016 Professor Bradley was elected to the University of Maryland University College Academic Advisory Board.

Q. When people think of criminal justice professionals, most often they think of law enforcement. However, the criminal justice field also has an emphasis on the legal process. Can you explain how criminal justice professionals play an important role in the legal process?

A. Simply put, legislatures enact the criminal statutes and police enforce these laws. Courts are tasked with determining the guilt or innocence of the accused and corrections affects the behavior changes needed to ensure the community that the criminal statute violator will not commit another crime. Unfortunately this straight-line pathway has a lot of loops and whorls. Often law enforcement finds the statues, while well intended, is impractical. Courts are confused by the language of the law and apply their own interpretation. Corrections may find that the penalties attached to the criminal statute or imposed by the court is untenable or simply ineffective. Any of these situations will cause the legislature to rescind or amend the statute and start again. The mission of the criminal justice is to protect the community residents and their property, and to provide the best measure of fairness while seeking justice as possible. It is not a task for a single agency or even as sequence of separate agencies. It requires each agency, interconnected and unified under a common goal. It is a system. People who work in the criminal justice system, from agency administrations to the operative levels to the support positions, all need to understand how they are woven together to provide safety and security for the community.

Q. What career paths could one pursue working in criminal justice?

A. The criminal justice system stretched from the enactment of criminal statutes to the release of convicted offenders back into the community. It includes law enforcement and criminal investigations, prosecution, defense and adjudication of accused violators, and finally institution and community-based corrections. There the roles in the adult criminal justice system apply in near-duplication to juveniles. Private security, civilian support specialists and commercial counterparts to the public criminal justice agencies far outnumber tax-funded positions. That is to say, there are hundreds and hundreds of career opportunities in criminal justice for the college graduate.

Q. What inspired you to pursue a career path in criminal justice? What education path did you pursue? How did you begin your career?

A. I grew up watching Dragnet and Adam-12. These folks were my heroes. When Penn State initiated the Law Enforcement and Corrections program I knew where my academic future lay. The curriculum, like the curriculum in the UMUC criminal justice program, prepared me for a career anywhere in the criminal justice system. After graduation I discovered the Baltimore Police Department had a special position for college graduates I knew I wanted to join an agency that truly appreciated what a college education contributes to its personnel. From that point on it was a matter of achieving rank and responsibility by my performance and my supportive academic credentials.

Q. How have some of your career experiences shaped you into the professional you are today?

A. Working as a footpatrol officer in Baltimore in the early 1970s shaped a lot of personal and professional perspectives. I learned that 99.9 percent of the people in the community appreciate and respect the operatives in the criminal justice system; also, that they need the system to keep them safe. Later, as I was working in a variety of administrative roles/ranks I discovered that running the police agency is like running any other company or business that provides 24 hour immediate and follow-up service to its customers; except this one is funded by the taxpayers. When I headed up the state’s public safety certification agency I learned to appreciate what I had initially learned in my undergraduate degree program – the scope and scale of all aspects of the criminal justice system, not only in Maryland, but across the nation and internationally.

Q. What personality and character traits must criminal justice professionals possess

A. The single most critical characteristic for anyone working in criminal justice is personal integrity. Integrity earns respect. Once you have earned people’s respect you can move mountains. The license to exercise discretion permeates the criminal justice system, from police officers, to prosecutors, to judges to parole agents. Wherever there is discretion there is an opportunity for corruption; judgment based on bias, self-interest, or favoritism. This is where personal integrity becomes paramount. Whether it is testifying under oath in court, or determining if an inmate should be release on parole, personal integrity must remain uncompromised.

Service in the criminal justice system is more than a job; it is a vocation.  It is noble work. However, anyone who works in an environment that deals with criminal activity is also exposed to ugliness and evil. This can generate a tremendous amount of stress.  The key to coping with the job stressors is supportive family and loved ones who understand and appreciate why an individual has chosen to work in public safety or criminal justice. Often, choosing a career in criminal justice is a group decision.

Q. What advice would you give UMUC students entering criminal justice?

A. Lots of students, myself included, identify with criminal justice because we are familiar with the popular police and legal shows on television. Unfortunately, as we all know, these dramatic depictions are not reality. To make intelligent and thoughtful decisions about a career in criminal justice requires knowing what the job really entails. Internships are the best way to get a sample dose of the reality of any aspect of criminal justice. Personally, I did three separate internships in various criminal justice fields as part of my undergraduate degree program. These experiences were instrumental in helping me make the correct career choice. While internship opportunities are sometimes limited, nearly every criminal justice agency appreciates and accepts volunteers. These support roles assist the agency while giving the potential applicant a front-row view of the role, purpose, administration and operation of the agency.   Both internships and volunteer experience are great additions to any professional resume.

Q. For UMUC students and alumni already working in criminal justice, what advice would you give them on how to keep advancing within the industry?

A. When I was advancing in rank in the Baltimore Police Department I quickly discovered the advantages that my college degree gave me over other candidates. Today, while some criminal justice agencies allow entry-level applicants with high school diplomas, the college degree is expected for individuals seeking specialty assignments or rank advancement. The more sophisticated and responsible the job description, the more likely it is that the position will reguire a college degree. The competencies that are developed at UMUC like critical thinking, researching, effective writing, etc. are essential in nearly every job in criminal justice. For success on the job, these skills should be practiced and perfected continuously.

Q. Any final thoughts or recommendations you want to share with UMUC students and alumni currently working in criminal justice?

A. As I stated earlier, work in criminal justice is a vocation. It is not for everyone. It may not even be for some people who think they would like to try it. That said, if a student feels that they are destined for a career focused on helping others, a career that is essential to the community as well as the nation, then they should strongly consider completing the criminal justice degree program. Alumni who already have their degree should review the vast array of positions available in the criminal justice field.  If that is where their heart truly lies, there is someplace in criminal justice for everyone.

For more information on career opportunities and resources available to UMUC students and alumni from the Office of Career Services, click here.

Jennifer Tomasovic is the director, Communications for Career Services and Alumni Relations at University of Maryland University College. She has spent her 15 year career crafting communications strategies and messages using both marketing and public relations tactics enhancing the brand and reputation for both the clients and organizations she has represented.