Behind the crime
Today, especially with the huge growth in intelligence agencies, there are many tantalising opportunities to go beyond the TV screen and join in the challenge to outsmart criminals and prevent security threats and antisocial behaviour.
The Australian Government now spends more than $1 billion a year on Australia’s six intelligence agencies, and ASIO alone grew by a whopping 471 per cent between 2001 and 2010. This year, a new headquarters worth $590 million will open up in Canberra.
These agencies are involved in supporting military operations, protecting maritime borders and detecting terrorist activities in Australia and the wider region. As border protection and intelligence agencies become bigger, more criminologists are working in the field as data analysts, intelligence officers and researchers alongside investigators and uniformed personnel.
Professor Alison Young, a lecturer in criminology at the University of Melbourne School of Social and Political Science, points out that criminology covers a much broader area of study than what we see on television crime shows.
“TV shows tend to focus on forensic scientists or forensic psychologists, which are very specialised sub-sets of criminology, so TV represents a very narrow version of what criminology involves. Most criminology graduates will never find themselves ‘working in a crime scene’, for example.”
Professor Young defines criminology as the study of crime and the ways in which society responds to crime. She says it is interested in how and why certain behaviours are defined as criminal, how we measure the nature and extent of crime, why crime occurs and how crime is represented in popular culture.
“Criminology students have a much broader range of study than these shows imply,” Professor Young says. “At Melbourne, the curriculum covers topics such as crime and public policy, global and international criminality such as people-trafficking and organ trafficking, and problems of state-based violence such as genocide, along with the more traditional areas of study such as policing and criminal law.”
Professor Young says that criminology is inherently a multi-disciplinary area that involves contributions from law, the social and behavioural disciplines such as psychology and sociology, psychiatry, history, philosophy and statistics, among others. In this way, criminology shares similarities with disciplines such as law and politics, while at the same time the focus is on helping or supporting particular groups of people.
“Criminology graduates may become social workers later, but might equally follow quite different career paths, such as law, journalism, policy analysis or academia,” Professor Young says.
“Some criminology graduates join the public service, working for government in areas such as housing, welfare, treasury and finance and, of course, criminal justice. Others enter the criminal justice system as professionals, often at management levels in various agencies or institutions.”
Criminologists also work in social justice in areas such as policing drugs, rehabilitation and domestic violence.
“Those interested in social justice issues, at home or abroad, might find employment in a non-governmental agency or social welfare agency,” Professor Young says. “Others have become policy analysts. Criminology is also a popular foundation for a law degree, and many students go on to study law at the graduate level.”
Opportunities are also opening up in the private sector as high-tech crimes such as computer hacking threaten corporate security.
Pursuing a career in criminology takes imagination beyond what you see on the TV screen, and it can be a rewarding path – whether you thwart terrorist attempts on the front line or police criminal behaviour behind the scenes.