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Become a Criminal History Specialist: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Find out how to become a criminal history specialist in this video. Learn about the education, training requirements, and experience you need to advance your career in criminal records management. View article »

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  • 0:01 Becoming a Criminal…
  • 0:36 Career Requirements
  • 2:02 Step 1: Earn an…
  • 2:28 Step 2: Build Clinical…
  • 3:29 Step 3: Adhere to…
  • 3:55 Step 4: Prepare for…

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Video Transcript

Becoming a Criminal History Specialist

Criminal history specialists and criminal records specialists review criminal records databases and verify that all systems include uniform and up-to-date information. To do this, they may need to speak with members of law enforcement and criminal justice departments. They're also responsible for making sure that attorneys and police officers receive updated criminal history records, such as sex offender registration records, criminal activity logs, aliases, and other current information on known criminals.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Associate's; some employers prefer a bachelor's degree; experience can sometimes be substituted for schooling
Degree Field Political science, public administration, paralegal studies, police science, or criminal justice
Experience 1-4 years of experience working with legal documents, filing confidential records, updating databases, writing legal reports, and reviewing criminal records preferred
Key Skills Comfortable working with others, able to stay organized and prioritize duties, strong research and reading comprehension skills, extensive knowledge of and familiarity with word processing and data processing across multiple databases, clear understanding of government paperwork procedures
Additional Requirements Willingness to travel and ability to lift boxes of files
Salary $32,050 (2015 median for information and records clerks)
$48,810 (2015 median for legal assistants)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), December 2012 job postings on government websites.

Step 1: Earn an Undergraduate Degree

The first step to becoming a criminal history specialist is to earn an associate's or bachelor's degree. Some government agencies look for applicants with associate or bachelor's degrees in public administration, criminal justice, political science, or police science. Students in these types of programs can learn about legal terminology, the criminal justice system, criminal history record systems, and courtroom paperwork procedures.

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Step 2: Build Clerical Experience

Employers may want applicants with anywhere from 1-4 years of experience working in clerical positions. Most of these same employers preferred applicants with a background in database processing and legal research, especially experience gained from working with criminal justice or law enforcement agencies.

It's also a good idea to learn about legal databases. Professionals in this field are expected to become familiar with accessing and updating federal, state and local databases. Individuals will also need to be capable of cross-referencing databases and verifying the accuracy of information across all systems. Although some on-the-job training in database processing may be offered, postsecondary classes or community learning seminars in topics like database processing, creating reports, editing databases, database management systems, grouping records, and designing forms could give applicants an edge.

Step 3: Adhere to State Requirements

Additional requirements vary by locality. For example, in New York State, individuals must pass a civil service exam in order to be considered for a position. The Arizona Department of Public Safety requires individuals in this position to become certified as an Arizona Criminal Justice Information System Terminal Operator within six months of being hired.

Step 4: Prepare for Advancement

Completing a paralegal degree or certificate program can enhance an individual's opportunities. Paralegals are not the same as criminal history specialists, although they share many similar job duties, and some employers list paralegal studies as one of the choices for educational prerequisites. Curriculum for a paralegal program consists of legal research and computer training. Internships in government agencies, law firms, public defender's offices or other places may also be part of the program. Paralegal studies are available as associate's, bachelor's, and master's degree programs as well as certificate programs for those already holding a degree.


In summary, to become a successful criminal history specialist, perspective job applicants should earn an undergraduate degree, build up their clerical experience, make sure to adhere to state requirements, and continually prepare for advancement once a position has been obtained.

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