There’s something rather disturbing about TV ads for trade school criminal justice degrees. You may have seen them: “Call now to begin your exciting career in this growing industry! Help put the bad guys behind bars!”

As the proud owner of a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, I find it more than a little unnerving to see this complicated subject reduced to a flashy 30-second TV commercial. Unlike most career opportunities, the field of criminal justice ideally shouldn’t be a “growing industry.” Everyone knows criminals are bad, and the brand of justice getting administered these days is often a crime in itself. America’s ongoing crime problems are more depressing than “exciting,” and the solution is not for more people to get up off the couch and start cracking skulls.


This weekend I saw a new ad for Westwood College, which begins with a man in the shower reading Miranda rights to an imaginary suspect. An announcer then says something to the effect of “do you fantasize about a career in law-enforcement? Call Westwood today…” I’m left wondering if I really want this crazy idiot who plays cop in the shower running around my neighborhood with a badge and a gun.


Westwood College’s criminal justice page does little to placate my pessimism:

Why are there so many TV shows about the criminal justice system? Because it’s exciting. All the dynamic elements that make for great TV also make for a great career.

Are you taking notes, class? Lesson 1: being a police officer is just like being an action hero on TV. So if you’ve been watching enough CSI Miami, you’ll ace Forensics and probably Firearms too. You could take engineering if you want, but then you’d be wasting all that career experience you absorbed inadvertently by watching Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Did you know Vincent D’Onofrio and Chris Noth are team-teaching the section on homicide interrogation?


Seriously though, comparing any activity to being on TV automatically appeals to the lowest common denominator. It should go without saying that anyone who’s apt to believe that a career in policing is as exciting as watching The Shield probably shouldn’t be enforcing laws in real life. It’s a particularly disturbing prospect in this context since police on TV are often trigger-happy and prone to habitual misconduct. Surely these aren’t the “dynamic elements” Westwood has in mind, but if they have a clue what kind of crap passes for crime drama these days, they ought not to invite the comparison.