police officer career alternatives

Career Alternatives to a Police Officer in the Criminal Justice Field

Good police officers play an important role in our society. The brave men and women in blue are hired to protect and serve, and it is important that they honor this position. Are you interested in a career in the criminal justice field? Do you want to give back to your community? You may be interested in working in law enforcement, but often ask yourself, “do I have to be a police officer to work in the criminal justice field?”

If you’re a fan of Law & Order, you may hear the term “criminal justice” and immediately think of police officers, lawyers and judges. You may not realize, however, that the very important field of Law Enforcement offers many job titles that are less well-known. Read on as we explore some of these alternative career options that may interest you.

Corrections Officer

Correctional officers maintain safety and order within jails and prisons. These officers are responsible for people who have been arrested and are serving time as part of a sentence or are awaiting trial. Bailiffs are correctional officers who work in courtrooms to maintain order and security. They perform both administrative duties and security as they assist the judge to ensure an orderly trial.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), correctional officers earned a median salary of $47,440 in 2020. While the number of jobs is expected to see a 7% decline over the next several years, there is still a need for this important role within law enforcement. Most correction officers must obtain at least a high school diploma along with time training in the academy. Those interested in working in federal prisons must have a bachelor’s degree or at least 1-3 years of full-time experience.

Fish and Game Warden

If you like the idea of protecting mother earth and preserving our wildlife, you may want to consider the nature-enthusiast’s equivalent to a police officer—a Game warden. Fish and game wardens protect their community’s wildlife from illegal activity like poaching and trapping. They also take time to assist visitors at local, state, and federal parks. These highly trained officers keep a close watch over wildlife, monitoring for any changes to their environment and taking action to prevent pollution. These professionals investigate criminal activity regarding nature, write up reports, make arrests, and assist during wildlife search and rescue efforts as needed.

Fish and game wardens earn an annual median salary of $57,810, according to the BLS. Most game wardens are required to obtain a bachelor’s degree, although some states, like Connecticut, will accept an associate degree along with law enforcement or wildlife experience.

Private Investigator

If you love criminal case series on TV, and you have a brain for problem-solving, you may be perfect for the work of criminal investigation. When a private party needs a mystery solved, private investigators (PIs) are on the case. These professionals will spend their days interviewing witnesses, following paper trails, performing surveillance and going undercover to get to the bottom of the mystery presented to them. PIs are well-known for their work helping victims of a crime or those who suspect a crime has taken place.

PIs earned a median salary of $53,320 in 2020. These professionals typically need several years of experience as well as a high school diploma, but many pursue a 2–4-year degree in criminal justice to help them prepare for their work. In the state of Connecticut, aspiring private investigators must obtain a professional license from the Commissioner of Emergency Services and Public Protection.


Those who are interested in the legal side of law enforcement may want to consider becoming a paralegal. These professionals assist attorneys in preparing for trial. Their typical daily duties on the job include:

  • Conducting research
  • Gathering evidence
  • Filing legal documents
  • Preparing reports
  • Scheduling meetings with witnesses

Much like police officers, paralegals are a crucial part of the justice system. Their diligent research and preparation often lay the groundwork for a winning case in court.

The future is bright for paralegals. This role is expected to grow by 10% between 2019 and 2029, which is much faster than the average occupation. Their median salary is $52,920 per year. Most paralegals must have an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as criminal justice.

Security Guard

When considering career alternatives to a police officer, security guards are often top of mind. These officers are hired to protect public or private property. They often act like police officers in a given setting, protecting the property or people involved. Security guards must keep watch, respond to emergencies at their facility, deter criminal activity, monitor alarms and surveillance footage, and write reports on what they observe while on duty.

The median annual income for a security guard is $31,080, but the top 10% earn more than $62K. Employment of security guards is expected to grow 3% over the next several years, so the future looks bright for those entering this field.

While a high school diploma is the bare minimum requirement for the role of security guard, many organizations prefer candidates have postsecondary education in criminal justice.

Start with an Education

Whether you are aspiring to become a police officer or looking for an alternative role in law enforcement, you will want to start with a solid foundation. A Criminal Justice degree program, such as the one at Goodwin University, can give you the tools to succeed. Courses are taught by seasoned industry experts, such as, state police officers, detectives, and attorneys, to share real-world insight that you can’t find in a textbook.

If you would like to learn more about the Criminal Justice program at Goodwin University, call 1-800-889-3282 or visit us online to request more information.