A Guide to Becoming a Crime Analyst

This Challenging Position Requires Competitive Skills

Police tape in the foreground with a crime scene in the background.
Yuri_Arcurs/DigitalVision/Getty Images

Being a crime analyst involves identifying patterns and deriving trends from previous crimes to effectively predict how and when future crimes will occur. It's a relatively new career option in criminal justice and criminology, but it has quickly become one of the most important fields in supporting law enforcement's goal of preventing crime.

Crime analysts have made themselves indispensable by providing police with vital intelligence and information regarding growing crime trends. They analyze data from a variety of sources to help law enforcement managers make better decisions on how and where to employ their resources and manpower to become more efficient in fighting crime.

What Does a Crime Analyst Do?

Crime analysts use strategic, tactical, and administrative data, each with different goals. Strategic analysis advises law enforcement agencies as to where to place personnel to deter crime. A tactical analysis is more focused on deploying resources to address immediate dangers, such as rape, murder, or abductions.

The administrative arm of the position provides all this information to supervisors and heads of departments, responding to their inquiries and demands for analysis of a particular situation. Information is often provided in graphic or visual content, such as charts, tables, and maps.

The job is highly research-driven. Crime analysts might pull data from local sources, but it's just as likely they'll use international data, comparing it to whatever situation they're dealing with at the time.

Minimum Requirements

Specific requirements for crime analysts can vary by state and even by department. Generally, however, you must be a United States citizen, and you must be a high school graduate or hold a G.E.D. You must additionally hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university. You must pass a thorough background check, often including a polygraph exam.

Relevant experience can be substituted for a college degree in some cases, but outside of working as a law enforcement officer, experience in this field is hard to come by. Crime analysis can be a great second career for former law enforcement officers.

Chances are that you're going to have to earn that degree if law enforcement isn't for you, however. Consider majoring in a relevant discipline, such as criminal justice, criminology, sociology, psychology, or public administration.

These are the minimum requirements. It will take more than this to put yourself in a position to get hired. In addition to a solid education, you'll need strong analytical skills and the ability to use various computer programs. Critical thinking is also a must. The best candidates have strong oral communication skills and the ability to write effectively, efficiently, and coherently. It's one thing to be able to analyze data, but it does no one any good if you can't clearly present it.

Get Competitive

Being able to demonstrate that you have some experience to draw on can go a long way. Consider working as an intern at a state or local police agency or with your sheriff's department. You might even consider getting a job as a police dispatcher or in a related field to familiarize yourself with how calls for service are dispatched and how Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) software is used.

Strong working knowledge of database and geo-mapping software can also help put you a step ahead of the competition. Stay up to date on literature and information related to the field by becoming familiar with crime analyst associations, such as the International Association of Crime Analysts (IACA).

The Background Investigation

Crime analysts deal with a lot of sensitive law enforcement data and information, so it follows that you'll be required to undergo a thorough background investigation for nearly any job you apply for in this field. Keep your background as clean as possible. Be mindful to avoid associations with known criminals, and refrain from any criminal behavior yourself, particularly serious misdemeanors, DUIs, and felonies.

You can expect the background investigation to include a look into your previous work history as well. Be open and honest about any conflicts with past employers, and make it a point to be a good employee wherever you're currently working. Try not to leave any job on bad terms because your previous employer might be called on for a reference later.

Law enforcement agencies want to be certain that they hire the most upstanding and trustworthy candidates. Your background and employment history are important components of the hiring process—one you can't afford to disregard.

Required Training

You'll get plenty of on-the-job training if you're hired, but you can also receive more formalized training in the form of certificate programs from organizations like the IACA or local associations. Some universities offer certificate programs in crime analysis.

Becoming a Crime Analyst

Crime analysis has become immensely important to law enforcement agencies, helping them to fulfill their role in the community. You'll have to employ hard work, dedication, and determination to get a job in this field, but jobs should be available. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has indicated that job growth for crime analysts should be about 5% from 2014 through 2024.