As a student, you are busy soaking up all sorts of criminal justice knowledge in your class. You are learning about law enforcement procedures, interrogation techniques, and evidence collection methods. At some point, you might start wondering how you will apply these concepts in the field. Internships are a terrific way to earn valuable on-the-job experience, while still attending school.

Numerous federal agencies and police departments across the country offer criminal justice internship programs. These programs give students the chance to learn about a variety of criminal justice jobs. Interns get to be part of a law enforcement team, while learning the basics and gaining valuable experience.

An Intern's Responsibilities

An intern's job is not glamorous. You will not be riding in a squad car pulling people over for moving violations or heading out with a detective to make a major arrest. However, an internship will give you a broad overview of the workings of a police department, crime lab, or federal agency. Many departments have interns spend 80% of their time observing and 20% performing actual work.

Interns may be assigned to specific units like juvenile, vice, crime scene, major crimes, or traffic control. They might be permitted to shadow certain members of these units. However, due to protocols and laws, in some situations interns are limited strictly to observation. Interns will also be asked to do a little bit of work. An intern might help compile crime statistics, assist with writing police reports, develop materials for crime prevention programs, or answer non-emergency phone calls.

Why Most Interns Don't Get Paid

The majority of police department and federal agency interns will not receive a paycheck for their hard work. This is not unique to criminal justice internships. This applies to the majority of internships in a diverse variety of fields. Interns are given the opportunity to step inside an organization and see firsthand the daily operations, the work being done, and interact with managers and directors in different departments. So, the experience they are gaining is priceless. Organizations feel that alone is worth more than any form of monetary compensation.

Benefits of Completing an Internship

Actual work experience is the main benefit of an internship. This experience makes your studies more relevant. You have a better understanding of how these concepts will be used out in the field. This experience also helps bolster your credentials. Not many applicants to the FBI or a local police department will have completed an internship. When it comes time to make a hiring decision, a department is more likely to choose a candidate who has a combination of experience and education over a candidate who only has education.

Interns are able to experience first-hand the duties and responsibilities for a variety of criminal justice jobs. Based on these experiences, you may decide that the classes you are taking will help you achieve your career goals. However, you may decide that you want to pick electives that focus more on juvenile justice or criminology to help you reach your goals.

Professional relationships developed during an internship can also be quite valuable. These police officers and federal agents have seen first-hand your dedication to criminal justice and your willingness to learn. When job opportunities become available in their department, you may automatically be considered for a job. These former co-workers and managers may also know of other agencies looking to hire entry-level recruits. They may even agree to become your professional references.

Applying for Internships

It is important to apply for internships as early as possible. Since you will be handling sensitive information, a background check will be performed. Plus, these are popular programs and competition can be stiff.

The college or university you are attending may have developed relationships with various police departments and federal agencies in the surrounding area. Check to see if they a list of intern opportunities. Do not just rely on your school to find internships. Make a list of the different federal agencies or local departments you might want to work for and then contact them about any internship opportunities they have available.

Last Updated: 04/29/2014