What training is needed to go into police science?

Police science, also called forensic science, encompasses a broad range of disciplines and levels of expertise. For example, a forensic scientist could be trained at the bachelor degree level in toxicology, DNA, or ballistics. A forensic scientist could also be a Ph.D. psychologist who studies criminal behavior, profiles criminal suspects, and presents testimony in court; or he or she could be a Ph.D. forensic anthropologist who specializes in reconstructing skulls to identify remains.

The type of training required to work as a forensic or police scientist will depend on a person’s area of interest and the number of years he or she is willing to invest. An individual who intends to work mainly as a criminalist, specializing in one or more areas of forensic evidence (DNA or handwriting analysis, for example), should earn a bachelor’s degree and also consider graduate-level training. To work in one of the forensic medicine specialties, a person would in most cases need to have earned a medical degree.

A valuable resource is offered by the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS). The Young Forensic Scientists Forum (YFSF) promotes the education and development of new forensic scientists. The YFSF is a channel for beginning forensic scientists to interact with established practitioners in their field through meetings and educational sessions at the annual AAFS conference, a newsletter, and a mentorship program.

Many graduates use an undergraduate degree in police  science as a stepping-stone to graduate work in areas such as law, allied health and medicine, and engineering, to name a few. Interested individuals should keep in mind that a good number of forensic scientists don’t necessarily start their careers working in forensics. For example, a psychologist might earn a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and then find that opportunities for consulting and other forensic work may develop into a full-time career. This can also happen for accident investigators, fire safety officers, or physical anthropologists, who find themselves becoming increasingly involved with forensic work that eventually replaces their original full-time career focus.

The curriculum at John Jay College of Criminal Justice is an example of what a person can expect in a forensic science program. John Jay’s bachelor of science curriculum in forensic science draws primarily from chemistry (organic, analytical, and physical) with courses in biology, physics, and law. Students may specialize in one of three tracks: criminalistics, toxicology, or molecular biology.

Most university departments of forensic and police science strongly encourage students who have no previous forensic science or criminal justice experience to participate in one or more internships in a criminal justice agency or forensic science laboratory. While most of these internships are almost always unpaid, they can provide valuable experience and a foot in the door when it comes time to land full-time employment.

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