Criminalist vs. Criminologist: Roles Defined

Published: 11th May 2011
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The difference between a criminalist and a criminologist might seem like it would be miniscule, or these two terms might sound interchangeable. This is far from true. Criminalists and criminologists have very different jobs, and they surely know it. If you’re thinking of going into the criminal justice field, you should definitely think about learning the differences between the two.

The Role of the Criminalist

The field of criminalistics deals with forensic science, which is the use of natural sciences for the analyses and interpretation of hard evidence. It would be correct to call a criminalist a forensic science technician, but it would not be correct to call him or her a criminologist. The role of this criminal justice professional is to examine the physical clues and evidence that are available, such as blood stains, bullets, clothes, drugs, fingerprints, shoe impressions and weapons, in order to recreate a crime scene. Their work takes place in crime scenes, court rooms and labs.

Criminalists may have degrees in biology, chemistry, criminal justice or forensic science. If you are thinking about going into this field, you could pursue a number of forensic science specialties with a criminal justice degree, such as DNA and serology, drugs/alcohol and toxicology, firearms and ballistics, and trace evidence.

The Role of the Criminologist

Criminology is also concerned with the scientific aspects of the criminal justice field, but this field has a focus on social behaviors in relation to crimes, criminals and corrections facilities. Criminologists draw from an academic background in order to understand how and why criminals deviate from normal social behaviors. Law enforcement agencies often need profiles of crimes and types of criminals, as well as statistics on related crime rates. This is where the criminologist steps in to use his or her analytical, creative and problem solving skills.

Criminologists work for government agencies, police departments or other law enforcement agencies, as well as in universities and other academic or research settings. You may also find work for the following:

• Airport security

• Correctional systems

• Department of Homeland Security

• Drug enforcement agencies

• The FBI

• Probation/parole facilities

If you are interested in going into the field of criminology, you can pursue a criminal justice degree, preferably with a minor in psychology or sociology. If you want to have more career opportunities available to you in the psychological side of criminology, you will probably need a Master’s Degree in Psychology and a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice.

To know more about online criminal justice schools providing online criminal justice programs visit

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