How Tailoring Your Degree Puts You on Track for Top Criminal Justice Careers in Cybercrime, Analysis & Management

Few careers offer the stability or opportunity of criminal justice and law enforcement. Even in trying times, federal, state, and local organizations rely on qualified professionals to protect communities, assets, and individuals from being exploited by bad actors and opportunists. The footprint of crime and its victims is expanding as the world of law enforcement, like so many modern professions, becomes increasingly specialized.

Digital crimes are on the rise as agencies struggle to outsmart the perpetrators. Massive sets of crime and intelligence data, largely generated in real-time, have put the onus on the entire chain of command to develop new skillsets. And law enforcement agencies require fresh vision and skilled leadership to develop accountability systems, build public trust, and ensure evidence-based practices.

These evolving conditions bring with them emerging opportunities. With a few short semesters of graduate study in criminal justice at Boston University’s Metropolitan College (MET), you can prepare yourself for success in the following promising cybercrime, analysis, and management career roles.

Digital Forensics/Cybercrime Investigator Career Outlook

Perhaps the most vital growth area in law enforcement is that of cybersecurity, cybercrime, and digital forensics investigation. The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) registered 467,361 complaints in 2019, reporting losses that exceeded $3.5 billion, up from 351,936 complaints for over $2.7 billion in losses in 2018. As these reported crimes rise, so too does the demand for thorough investigators able to trace cybercriminal activity back to its source.

“The biggest challenge cybercrime investigation faces is a lack of qualified human resources,” says Dr. Kyung-shick Choi, director of Cybercrime Investigation & Cybersecurity (CIC) programs at BU MET. This deficit, Dr. Choi suggests, runs across the board. “The current capabilities of many law enforcement agencies are, unfortunately, very limited. Most local and state law enforcement officers lack the expertise to process computer data and related evidence, putting their departments at a disadvantage,” he says.

Since 2014, the IC3 has reported an average of almost 300,000 complaints annually, accounting for $7.45 billion in financial losses. Those figures are only the tip of the iceberg, however, as the FBI estimated in 2016 that only 15 percent of cybercrimes are reported to law enforcement.

“Considering the exponential increase in the number of cybercrime cases we are seeing overall, nationally and globally, the assistance provided by the FBI is still much too limited,” Dr. Choi says. “Cybercrime is in need of an infusion of law enforcement officers trained in both cybercriminal behavior and information technologies.”

BU MET is committed to improving cybercrime investigation acumen and literacy in the real world, where it counts—that’s why the CIC program was granted funding from the US Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) to help harness greater cybercrime investigation intelligence across law enforcement.

According to PayScale.com, cybersecurity analysts earn an average salary of $75,7000. Meanwhile, the median salary for the related career of information security analyst was $99,730 in 2018, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, which from 201929 projects a growth rate of 31%, or 40,900 new jobs, a much faster expansion than the average career.

With cybercrime occurring globally, and across jurisdictions, an increasing number of local police departments are recognizing the need to staffup with those trained to help solve these types of cases. A 2018 Police Executive Research Forum study, “The Changing Nature of Crime and Criminal Investigations,” found that for police forces, cybercrime investigators are making old ways of crime-fighting increasingly obsolete. “The old ‘silos,’ such as special units for organized crime, gangs, and narcotics, are becoming less relevant as cybercrime becomes a part of all these traditional categories,” the study reads.

Chris Kayser (MET’16) found success in cybersecurity after his time at BU MET. “Upon graduation, I formed a company called Cybercrime Analytics, Inc., that provides consulting, training, and special projects services, as well as providing the platform for my continuing research in the area of cybercrime investigation and cybersecurity,” he says. “Much of what I learned from my courses in the master’s degree program at BU provided me with the necessary skillsets to ensure the growth of my new company.”

Director Choi has seen his share of MET CIC graduates become leaders in the field at federal agencies, and he’s pleased that program alums have largely maintained special relationships with their mentors at BU MET. These strong connections, he believes, only propel BU MET’s leadership in the world of cybersecurity further, creating branching networks of opportunity. “I think that type of environment is very important, because students get to see leaders from our program—great role models, constantly in communication,” he says.

“Cybercrime is a challenging field of study,” says Director Choi. “But it opens the path to great potential. If you are working in law enforcement or IT-related fields and are fascinated with technology, and willing to learn new things, you can make a difference with your determination.”

Crime Intelligence Analyst

Policework is not just knocking on doors and interviewing witnesses anymore, as data-driven and intelligence-led approaches to crime have rapidly become the standard among contemporary criminal justice organizations. The proliferation of data generated by surveillance cameras, body cams, GPS, mobile devices, social media, email and text exchanges, wearable tech, sensors, and other sources has enhanced police’s potential to map hotspots, discern patterns and trends, gather evidence, solve crimes, and demonstrate results. This has put a premium on the data analysis skills critical to tactical, operational, and strategic efforts in law enforcement, and essential to research and policy development.

“Every criminal justice agency talks about data-driven approaches,” says Dr. Shea Cronin, assistant professor in BU MET’s Criminal Justice program. “A capacity to work with data and understand the ways it can inform decisions is essential.”

A 2018 study from Police Chief online, “Intelligence-led Policing: Changing the Face of Crime Prevention,” found that extrapolating data only stands to become increasingly important. “With continued refinement of how data is analyzed, coupled with programming that utilizes data intelligently and encourages agency and community collaboration, intelligence-led policing will continue to strengthen its role as a deterrent to crime,” it said.

Qualified crime intelligence analysts stand to benefit from this growing demand. According to information from O*NET OnLine by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration (USDOL/ETA), demand for qualified crime intelligence analysts is expected to grow by 2–3% through 2028, while the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that median salaries for intelligence analysts and detectives/criminal investigators can exceed $83,000 annually.

Careers in Management, Leadership & Policy Direction

Being an effective manager in a criminal justice organization requires more than a “tough on crime” attitude: you have to comprehend the culture within your department, communicate with first-line supervisors and other personnel, collaborate with external agencies, maintain rapport with the press and other observers, and ensure that you are able to understand and confront deeply entrenched ideas, cultures, and expectations.

Most importantly, you have to answer to the public—likely in the aftermath of a crisis. Successful management in this environment requires innovative strategies, the ability to develop accountability systems and streamline processes, and a deep commitment to best practices. It is important to maintain focus on evidence-based planning and to approach practical and systemic obstacles with a vision—and a solution.

An analysis from the Vera Institute of Justice found a recent surge in state legislation affecting policing policy and practice. From 2015–⁠16, the study found, 34 states enacted new policing laws, with many putting greater emphasis on clarifying and improving policies regarding use of force, misconduct, and documentation of police operations, including tracking and ramping up the use of body cameras on officers.

“In recent years, the policing profession has been highly scrutinized and criticized, especially about its handling of use-of-force issues,” a 2018 study by the Police Executive Research Forum found. “In response, police departments and sheriffs’ offices across the country have begun implementing new policies, procedures, training, and equipment for using force.”

By advancing into upper-management, policymaking, and executive-level agency positions, mid-career criminal justice professionals can help alleviate the pressures of these changes to expectations and strategy.

“Criminal justice practitioners must be effective leaders, so managers must equip themselves with the skills to lead in organizations that prefer to work in obscurity but are facing increasing levels of scrutiny,” says BU MET Associate Professor of the Practice of Criminal Justice and Chair of the Department of Applied Social Sciences Dr. Mary Ellen Mastrorilli. “Enhancing administrative skills ensures that resources are not wasted, and problems are identified, analyzed, and solved.”

Higher education is a proven pathway to upward mobility in criminal justice, on and off the beat. The median salary for first-line supervisors of police and detectives was $91,090 in 2019, per data shared via O*NET OnLine, which forecasts a 46% increase in jobs through 2028. Criminal justice and law enforcement postsecondary teachers saw median annual pay exceeding $62,000 in 2019, with a 710% increase in jobs through 2028.

“Having a graduate degree in criminal justice from BU gave me an edge in my promotion to the rank of captain,” says New York Police Department Captain Stephen McGonagle (MET’04). “It also enabled me to join the faculty in the criminal justice department at the State University of New York College at Buffalo as an adjunct professor.”