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Criminal Justice vs. Law Enforcement: Everything You Need to Know

Criminal Justice vs. Law Enforcement: Everything You Need to Know

People serving law enforcement and criminal justice systems are among the most crucial members of society. They keep our neighborhoods safe, and in doing so, ensure the peace and well-being of our country.

These officers, however, do more than just keeping us safe. They prevent crimes from happening, solve them when they do happen, and bring criminals to justice. In short, their services are crucial to the smooth running of our neighborhoods, our cities, and thus our country.

If you’re considering a career in criminal justice or law enforcement, you likely possess a deep-seated sense of justice. It’s also possible that you simply want to serve your community. Either way, joining criminal justice or law enforcement can be a very fulfilling career.

Currently, there are over 800,000 law enforcement officers in the country, working in different organizations and departments across the country. While these officers aren’t always working for criminal justice, their work is closely tied to it.

Let us explain how criminal justice and law enforcement interact and how they differ from each other!

What is Law Enforcement?

In simple words, law enforcement can be defined as the action or activity of compelling compliance or observation of a certain law in a specific jurisdiction. Law enforcement refers to the acts of engaging in surveillance and patrolling to dissuade people from committing crimes or disturbing the peace.

Police officers usually perform law enforcement as they engage in discovering and deterring people from breaking the law. Although law enforcement is related to the systems of courts, prisons, and penitentiaries, it is mostly used to refer to the prevention and punishment of criminal activities.

What is Criminal Justice?

Criminal justice refers to delivering justice to those who have violated the law and committed crimes against the state and country or its citizens. The criminal justice system, responsible for performing these tasks, comprises a variety of government agencies and institutions.

The goal of these institutions is to identify and apprehend the criminals and punish them accordingly. However, criminal justice also involves rehabilitating the criminals and ensuring that they’re afforded their basic rights.

Essentially, the criminal justice system is designed to alleviate crime in the country, and due to the wide scope of its responsibilities, there are several branches of criminal justice. These branches include law enforcement, the judicial system, and corrections.

The criminal justice system in the US is very effective at preventing crime and is a much more diverse system than it used to be.

How Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Differ

As you can probably tell by now, law enforcement and criminal justice aren’t the same. In other words, law enforcement is an essential part of the overarching criminal justice system. Nevertheless, the two terms are not interchangeable.

Law enforcement and criminal justice differ from each other in definition, purpose, nature, and composition. Let’s take a deeper look at how these two systems differ from each other!


Since we’ve already defined the two concepts, you can understand how their definitions are different. Law enforcement is a component of the criminal justice system, but criminal justice is about more than just enforcing the law.


Law enforcement and criminal justice also differ from each other in their purpose. In other words, it can be said that law enforcement is about upholding the law and apprehending all those who violate it.

However, criminal justice is about ensuring that these people are brought to justice and then rehabilitated into society. Moreover, criminal justice is also tasked with ensuring that apprehended people get their basic rights and prove that they’re actually guilty of the crime.


The nature of jobs also varies as law enforcement is responsible for working directly with and amongst the communities they protect and serve. They are on the frontline and have to do the dangerous job of dealing with criminals. On the other hand, criminal justice professionals work more closely with courts and correctional facilities.

Careers: How Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Differ

If you’re interested in a career in either law enforcement or criminal justice, you might be wondering how the two differ in terms of careers. The criminal justice system offers a lot of career opportunities simply because it is such a comprehensive system.

If you have studied criminal justice, you can work with criminals (corrections), delivering justice in the courts (judicial system), or catching the criminals (law enforcement). Let’s take a look at some of the careers you can pursue in the criminal justice system:

  • Federal Law enforcement agents such as the CIA, FBI, or DEA
  • Homeland Security agents
  • Correctional officers
  • Probation officers
  • Immigration or Customs agents
  • Private and personal security agents
  • Police officers
  • Forensic technicians and crime scene investigators
  • Defense attorneys
  • Paralegals
  • Bailiffs


Yes, we know some of these careers are directly related to law enforcement, and that’s because law enforcement is a part of the criminal justice system. If you’re only looking for law enforcement careers, here’s a list for you!

  • Police officers
  • Deputy sheriffs
  • State troopers
  • Drug Enforcement agents
  • Border patrol agents

Education: How Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Differ

If you’re interested in joining law enforcement, very few schools offer law enforcement degrees. However, you can easily find degrees focusing on the larger criminal justice education in schools across the country.

Even if you find a law enforcement degree, the education will prepare you for a highly specialized law enforcement career. You will be studying career-focused coursework such as Crime Scene Investigation and Criminal Law.

On the other hand, a criminal justice degree will not only cover law enforcement but go beyond that. A criminal justice degree will educate you on various subjects such as Criminal Procedures, Criminology, Investigative Reporting, Forensic Science, Cybercrimes and Security, etc.

In short, a criminal justice degree will open a lot of avenues for you later on, and you can work in the criminal justice system and not just in law enforcement.

Start Your Criminal Justice Journey with Civil Service Success

If you’re interested in a career in criminal justice, you’ll probably know that you have to take civil service exams for almost all government institutions. For instance, you can take the NYS Court Officer exam or the Suffolk County police exam right now.

However, preparing for a civil service exam isn’t easy because they only come around once every four to six years. At Civil Service Success, we offer preparatory courses to help you ace these exams. Contact now to learn more about how we can help you get ready for a criminal justice career.



By |2021-06-29T20:28:41+00:00June 27th, 2021|Blog|0 Comments

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