Not all crimes are solved by detectives, forensic technicians, or law enforcement officers. Often many crimes are now analyzed from behind a computer desk in complex ways. This analysis is done by trained crime analysts who are increasingly becoming essential members of investigations. These curious, dedicated, and detail-oriented professionals rarely set foot in a crime scene but rather know what to look for in order to solve or even predict crime.
Crime analysts work in law enforcement analyzing crime reports, arrest records, police calls, and other data to establish patterns and make correlations. They synthesize the data they gather into detailed reports that are used by their departments to make decisions about prosecutions, patrols, and staffing. There are several specifications crime analysts can pursue, including tactical, criminal, administrative, intelligence, and strategic criminal analysis.
Aspiring professionals can enter this field by completing a certificate program, although most crime analysts have earned at least a bachelor’s degree or higher. Often, work experience in law enforcement can be just as essential as education, so aspiring crime analysts should strive to gain volunteer work or paid employment in the field to improve employability.
National certification is optional in this field, although highly recommended and required by many employers. Some programs offer national certification upon completion, while others prepare students to sit for exams such as the Certified Law Enforcement Analyst (CLEA) through the International Association of Crime Analysts (IACA) or the Criminal Intelligence Certified Analyst (CICA) through the International Association of Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysts (IALEIA).
The guide below will give you all the details on how to become a crime analyst as well as typical salaries, required personality traits, necessary education, and what credentials are required.
Since crime analysts’ jobs are relatively new, there is a lot of variation in estimated salaries. The variations are based on education, training, certification, and whether or not the crime analyst is a law enforcement officer. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2019), crime analysts can be classified as detectives and criminal investigators. The percentiles for wages are:
Crime analysts may also be classified as forensic science technicians, although this role is more specialized. According to the BLS, the percentiles for wages for forensic science technicians are:
Payscale.com (2021) aggregates self-reported wage data to determine average pay for crime analysts. The average pay for crime analysts, based on 96 self-reported salaries, is $46,787 per year. The percentiles, according to Payscale, are:
Crime analysts must be detail-oriented, curious, and able to work well under pressure. They have to be able to make connections and see patterns in what may otherwise look like a sea of information. Top traits that employers look for in crime analysts include:
Crime analysts review police reports daily to identify patterns as they develop. They need to be able to recall data easily and determine links between crimes that may be days and miles apart. Patterns are quickly reported to police officers in order to help them maintain public safety. While some patterns may be in the type of crime, such as a type of business being robbed, they can also be in hot spots where all crime is increasing.
Crime analysts are typical members of law enforcement teams and are required to communicate clearly and accurately. Patterns discovered through analysis are communicated to police officers, supervisors, and detectives in person, over the phone, or via email. Sometimes, crime analysts must write detailed reports outlining their findings for presentation to elected officials or for publishing in public reports.
Not only do crime analysts need to look at the data they are presented with daily, but they must also relate that data to historical data to determine patterns. Crime analysts must be able to research quickly and effectively and synthesize large amounts of data in a short period of time.
Many times crime analysts must work under strict time constraints with large amounts of data. They must be efficient at prioritizing their work and staying on task to complete analyses and reports in a timely manner.
Staying curious is essential to being an excellent crime analyst. Often something may seem off, but there is no apparent reason why. Crime analysts need to have flexible thinking that considers out of the box ideas as to why things are happening the way they are. When they can do that, they can determine patterns that otherwise may not have been detected.
Place of employment typically determines specialization for crime analysts. Most crime analysts work in local, county, or state law enforcement offices while some may work for government agencies or nonprofits. While most crime analysts are civilians, some may be trained and sworn-in law enforcement officers. The five main types of specializations are:
This type of analysis relates to organized crime. Crime analysts working in intelligence look for patterns in drug trafficking, prostitution, fraud, and gangs. Analysts review data, including surveillance completed by law enforcement, wiretaps, reports from informants, and work completed by undercover cops.
Popular TV shows such as Criminal Minds and Mind Hunter are based on the criminal investigative analysis. Analysts in this field profile criminals and are looking for patterns in behavior, murders, and crime scenes to help law enforcement identify the perpetrator.
Tactical crime analysis looks at the who, what, when, where, why, and how of a crime. By carefully analyzing all those aspects, crime analysts look to identify leads to help solve the case. This analysis is very methodical and involves detailed reviews of police reports, crime scene photos, and interview transcripts.
Crimes that occur over an extended period of time, or even long term patterns in police behavior, are investigated under strategic crime analysis. This particular form of criminal analysis can be daunting, as the number of records that must be examined can be astronomical. Crime analysts in this field often utilize machine learning or other software tools to help them comb through mountains of data.
Information gathered and evaluated by crime analysts often must be synthesized into reports. Many of these reports inform law enforcement agencies about patterns of crime, how enforcement has impacted established patterns, and where there is more work to be completed. Other reports are for citizens, command staff, government officials, or the media. Administrative crime analysts are specialists at creating these reports both from data they have analyzed or from data other crime analysts have examined.
The short answer is it varies. A typical criminal analyst can enter this career with four to six years of education and work experience after graduating from high school.
However, some aspiring crime analysts can begin their careers with as little as an associate’s degree in criminal justice or a related field. However, these entry-level roles are rare, and many may require work experience. Most crime analysts earn at least a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related field. However, crime analysts must have work or volunteer experience in criminal justice or law enforcement to be competitive in securing a job in this field.
There are several paths crime analysts can take to enter this field. Here is one of the most common courses:
Step 1: Graduate from High School (Four Years)
Completing high school is the first step towards becoming a crime analyst. Students should endeavor to do well in all classes as a strong GPA may be required for admission to competitive undergraduate criminal justice programs. Classes that can give students a head start include statistics, biology, and psychology. Students can also work to gain work or volunteer experience in local law enforcement through community programs or part-time employment.
Step 2: Get a Degree in Criminal Justice, Criminology, Sociology, or a Related Discipline (Two to Four Years)
Crime analysts can earn either a certificate, associate, or bachelor’s in criminal justice, criminology, sociology, or related field. Other degrees for professionals in this field can include statistics, public administration, or psychology. Gaining work experience in law enforcement while in college is critical, as many employers require applicants to have already worked in the field in some capacity. Students can fill many part-time civilian roles in law enforcement, including entry-level criminal analyst jobs.
Some programs offer student certification upon completion of their program. For example, the California Department of Justice has partnered with the California University system to offer certificate programs at California State University, Fullerton, the University of California, Riverside, Pierce College, and California State University, Sacramento. Graduates of these programs are certified by the Law Enforcement Intelligence Units (LEIU) and are ready to step into crime analyst roles across the state. Most of these programs can be completed in 12 to 18 months.
Students who wish to pursue a bachelor’s degree can enroll in programs such as Utica College’s bachelor of science in criminal intelligence analysis. Based in Utica, NY, this online degree program can be completed in as little as four years. Graduates are prepared to sit for the Certified Crime Analyst exam in New York, the Certified Law Enforcement Analyst exam through the International Association of Crime Analysts (IACA), or the Criminal Intelligence Certified Analyst (CICA) exam through the International Association of Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysts.
A shorter course of study is offered by Seattle University in Seattle, WA, where students can complete an online Crime Analysis Certificate in just one year. Graduates will know how to identify patterns, make correlations, and analyze a wide variety of data.
Courses that students are required to complete provide a solid foundation in criminal analysis theory, research theories, criminal behavior, and intelligence analysis. This program also emphasizes writing and presentation skills, so analysts will have the tools to convey their conclusions.
Step 3: Obtain Certification (Optional, Timelines Varies)
Certification for crime analysts is optional, although highly recommended. Holding a certificate demonstrates to employers a high level of competency in the field and can help established professionals with career advancement.
Some programs, such as the ones recognized by the California Department of Justice, award certification upon completion of a program. Other certifications must be earned through testing.
The two primary certifications analysts earn through testing are the Certified Law Enforcement Analyst (CLEA) through the International Association of Crime Analysts (IACA) or the Criminal Intelligence Certified Analyst (CICA) through the International Association of Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysts (IALEIA).
To qualify for the CLEA certification, applicants must pass an exam with a score of 75 percent or better.
To qualify for the CICA certification, applicants must:
Kimmy Gustafson is a freelance writer and researcher with a passion for sharing stories of bravery. Her love for world-traveling began when her family moved to Spain when she was six and since then, she has lived overseas extensively, visited six continents, and traveled to over 25 countries. She is fluent in Spanish and conversational in French. When not writing or parenting she can be found kiteboarding, hiking, or cooking.