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On Being a Criminal Justice Professional: Be Prepared and Be Ethical

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A cornerstone of being a criminal justice professional is being prepared to take advantage of opportunities when they arise. Preparation is about learning: pursuing and completing that education, and having meaningful experiences while you are working on that degree. Learning everything that you can about your chosen career path is vital to your professional success.

However, your education does not end when you graduate with a degree in criminal justice. Part of being a truly prepared professional is embracing the notion of lifelong learning. Successful professionals are always learning new things and constantly working to further hone their skills. In criminal justice this is so important, as the foundation of the criminal justice system is the law, and the law is ever-changing.

This was the theme of the advice that a panel of criminal justice professionals shared with AIU Bachelor of Criminal Justice students and others in attendance at the annual Criminal Justice Law Enforcement Symposium at AIU Atlanta in November.

The group of panelists was quite impressive. You don't often see a group of professionals come together with their combined experience and expertise, outside of a professional conference. Having the opportunity for our students to be up close and personal with such a high-quality group was very special. Panelists included the special agent in charge for the Atlanta Field Office of the Secret Service, the special agent in charge for the Atlanta Field Office of the FBI, the Deputy Chief of the Atlanta Police Department, the DeKalb County Chief of Police, the Chief Probation Officer for the Georgia Department of Corrections, the Chief of the Fulton County Police Department and the Fulton County Sheriff, among others.

While the panelists were there to discuss emerging challenges facing law enforcement, near the end of the symposium, each participant was asked to share some advice with the room full of Bachelor of Criminal Justice students in attendance. The advice fell into two primary categories: preparation and integrity.

Being an ethical criminal justice professional who operates with integrity is a concept that cannot be stressed enough. All of the panelists talked about how long and hard they worked to develop their professional reputations, and they stressed how quickly and how easily that hard-fought reputation can be tarnished by engaging in unprofessional, unethical behaviors. A reputation that took years to build can be destroyed with one wrong act. "The mistakes will be remembered over the good you've done. Don't compromise your integrity for someone else's benefit," one panelist noted. Said another, "Do the right thing, because it is the right thing to do. The cover-up is always worse than the crime. Keep your honesty and integrity."

There are a number of definitions out there of the word "professional," and many authors have written on the topics of professionalism and what it means. There are a number of concepts shared by authors, and a number of those concepts span across different professions. It was very interesting to witness all of the experienced criminal justice professionals at this symposium share the two themes discussed above, particularly because competition in obtaining entry-level criminal justice jobs is very high.

Because of this reality, it is vital that criminal justice students enthusiastically prepare themselves through education – being selfish about that education, and getting all they can from the institution. Learning as much criminal justice content, and improving writing, teamwork and communication skills as possible increases a student's chances for success in getting that job. Being a professional operating with integrity and a lifelong learner will increase the likelihood of upward mobility in that career path.

Ready to learn more? Explore criminal justice degrees at AIU.