How To Become A Police Detective
How To Become A Detective: A detective, sometimes referred to as an investigator, normally works with a law enforcement agency. Called in for specific situations, a detective collects evidence and analyzes the facts in a criminal case. Duties of a detective generally include interviewing witnesses and suspects, examining records involved with a case, observing potential suspects, and taking part in arrests.
Private detectives tend to enjoy a great deal of professional independence, which is precisely what draws many investigators to the field. These professionals often choose when they work, how many clients they serve and the types of cases they accept. Before they achieve this degree of flexibility, however, private investigators must meet all training and licensing regulations governing their work. These requirements are state-specific, so not all detectives pursue the same certificates, degrees and professional licenses. Prospective PIs’ academic choices frame the legality of their work and future career opportunities and earnings, so it is important that they research their options and choose wisely. The following guide outlines the steps to becoming a private detective, what the future might hold for them and how these factors interrelate.
Do you have to be a police officer before you become a detective?
The only way to become a police detective is to work as a police officer, pass a test, and earn promotion to detective through the department. If you want to pursue a career as a detective without going through the police academy and working as an officer first, you can become a private investigator, or PI.
What qualifications do you have to have to be a detective?
A high school diploma is required to work as a detective. In some cases a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or law enforcement may be needed. Experience in law enforcement is usually required, but the amount varies by employer.
How do you become a detective or criminal investigator?
- Step 1: Graduate from high school. …
- Step 2: Get a degree in criminal justice, criminology, sociology, or a related discipline (2-4 years). …
- Step 3, option 1: For prospective police detectives: Enroll in a police academy and get investigative experience (1-3 years).
How To Become A Police Detective
There are four steps you can take to become a detective.
Step 1: Earn a College Degree
Detectives usually begin their careers as police officers. Although a GED or high school diploma may be all that’s required for some police officer positions, many agencies require a college degree in criminal justice, law enforcement, or a related field. Both associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs are available for aspiring detectives. Students may take courses in criminal law, criminology, human relations, judicial function, forensic science, and criminal procedure.
It is also a good idea to take foreign language courses. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that proficiency in a foreign language can be beneficial for aspiring detectives, especially in urban surroundings. Some programs also include an internship experience during which a student can get real-world insight into the field.
Step 2: Complete a Police Training Academy
In order to be eligible to be trained as a police officer, an individual must be at least 21 years old and a U.S. citizen. He or she may also have to pass drug and polygraph tests. Police recruits must complete training academy programs and often pass written and physical tests before beginning to serve as officers. Individual police departments, and state and federal agencies, offer these programs. They include a mixture of physical training and classroom study in areas such as firearm training, self-defense, traffic control, and first aid. Police academy graduates should have a clear understanding of state and local law.
Step 3: Develop Skills and Fitness
Detectives should maintain excellent physical and mental health. They can do this by engaging in regular exercise and fitness training, which better equips them for handling danger and stress. Detectives can keep a sharp mind by brushing up on new techniques and technology. For example, studying computer forensics can be extremely useful because of the increase in cybercrime.
Detectives must be very perceptive and observant to do their jobs. The ability to pay keen attention to detail is a very important quality for a detective. Individuals should cultivate these skills while on the job, paying close attention to crime scenes and accidents, and learning how to capture details in reports.
Step 4: Build Work Experience
Detectives typically are chosen from existing police officers; thus, aspiring detectives should express their interest to superior officers to be kept in mind for promotion. Many agencies require police officers to serve at least three years before becoming eligible for detective positions. Promotion within agencies is generally based on an individual’s position on a promotion list, scores on agency exams, and an evaluation of his or her performance as a police officer. According to the BLS, growth in this field is expected to stay about the same in coming years, but those with more experience and military training will likely have better professional prospects.
How To Become A Homicide Detective
Meet the educational requirements. If you want to be a detective, having a high school diploma or a GED is the bare minimum requirement for both types. But if you pursue a higher education and graduate with an associates or even a bachelor’s degree in something relevant to police work, such as criminal justice, criminal law, criminology, human relations, judicial function, forensic science, political science, and criminal procedure, then you will make yourself an even more desirable candidate. Many agencies require college coursework or a college degree.
- You can even find a degree program that includes an internship component, which will give you more real-life experience.
- While you’re educating yourself, see if you can find a useful foreign language for your community, such as Spanish. Knowing a foreign language is a major asset for many urban departments and federal agencies, and this will help make you a desirable candidate, especially if you live in an area where a second language is commonly spoken.
- Getting a college or bachelor’s degree will also make it likely for you to have a higher starting salary.
Be at least 21 years old. This is another requirement in both states, so you won’t be able to be a detective when you’re right out of high school. While you’re waiting to turn 21, you can benefit from some relevant training or getting a higher education.
Meet the physical requirements. When you apply to be a detective, you’ll need to pass a physical exam to show that you have sound vision, hearing, strength, and agility.
Possess the qualities you need to be a good detective. Though you can work on developing these qualities over the course of your career, starting off with a base of qualities that make you perfect for the job can improve your chances of success. Here are some of the qualities that are crucial for success as a detective:
- The ability to multi-task. Though you may be focusing on one case at a time, you will always have multiple tasks and lots of paperwork to get done within a short time frame, so you need to be able to juggle a variety of tasks at once.
- Superior communication skills. If you want to investigate a crime to the best of your ability, then you’ll need to be able to talk to people in a comforting yet firm manner to ensure that you get the best information possible.
- Strong writing skills. Being a detective isn’t all about going out into the field, having high-speed chases, and following exciting leads. There will be plenty of writing involved, and you’ll need to know how to best express the details about an incident through concise, accessible writing.
- Patience. If you want to be a good detective, then you can’t obsess over solving a case immediately; it can take months, or even years, to follow a lead, and a lot of your detective work will lead to dead ends.
- Perceptiveness. You need to develop the ability to take in all of the details of a crime scene and to think of the information in an original way that can get you a step closer to finding the solution.
How Long Does It Take To Become A Detective
The term “detective” may summon images of the fast-moving, smartly dressed characters of James “Sonny” Crockett (Don Johnson) and Ricardo “Rico” Thomas (Philip Michael Thomas) from Miami Vice or the supernaturally adept Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) from the eponymous TV show. The truth is that real detective work is far removed from the glamorous media portrayals, requiring incredible patience, investigative rigor, and ironclad ethics. In addition to being exposed to potentially dangerous individuals and situations, the process of solving cases can take months or even years, much of it spent poring over documents, photographs, and files. Despite the challenges, however, becoming a detective can be a rewarding profession, providing the deep personal satisfaction that comes from solving crimes and bringing resolution to victims.
First, there’s a difference between police detectives and private investigators (PIs), although the two fields have overlapping competencies. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), police detectives typically garner investigative experience through their work in law enforcement and have become detectives as a promotion through the agency. On the job, they may conduct interviews with witnesses or suspects; examine records; collect and carefully document evidence; prepare reports; observe the activity of subjects; secure scenes of crimes; get arrest warrants; participate in the apprehension of criminals, and serve as expert witnesses in court. By contrast, PIs are citizens who typically need state licensure and cut their teeth gathering legal, financial, and personal information for clients by conducting surveillance; performing background checks; tracking missing people; searching records for clues; and interviewing people of interest. Detectives may choose to specialize in homicide (police detectives only), computer forensics, corporate malpractice, insurance fraud, and other fields.
Read on to discover the typical salary detectives earn, as well as the required personality, education, and credentials necessary to join this exciting profession.
How To Become A Private Detective
|Degree Level||High school diploma (required); bachelor’s degree (may be required)|
|Degree Field||Criminal justice or law enforcement|
|Experience||Several years (varies by employer)|
|Key Skills||Keen perception, leadership skills, communication, multitasking, physical stamina, basic computer skill, and experience with software for crime scene management, crime information databases, and computer-aided composite drawing; comfortable with handcuffs, polygraphs and fingerprinting and surveillance equipment.|
|Median Salary (2015)||$77,210 (for detectives and criminal investigators, 2014)|
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net OnLine
A high school diploma is required to work as a detective. In some cases, a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or law enforcement may be needed. Experience in law enforcement is usually required, but the amount varies by employer. The key skills needed by a detective include:
- Keen perception
- Leadership skills
- Physical stamina
- Basic computer skills
- Experience with software for crime scene management, crime information databases, and computer-aided composite drawing
- Comfortable using handcuffs, polygraphs, and fingerprinting and surveillance equipment.
How To Become A Detective Or Criminal Investigator
As mentioned above, the Bureau of Labor Statistics differentiates between private investigators (PIs) and police detectives (BLS 2017). Since the career outlook in terms of demand differs a bit, it is important to look at both jobs.
According to the BLS, the demand for police detectives is expected to grow by just 7 percent between 2016 and 2026 while the demand for private detectives and investigators will grow by 11 percent during the same time frame (BLS 2017). While neither field is expected to experience explosive growth, 7 percent is the estimated average for all careers.
While it may be tempting to think that because there is a higher demand for private investigators, that is the job to prepare for, the reality is that many private investigators come to the field from a law enforcement background.
As with any career, the lower the demand for a position, the more competitive it will be for new entrants to that career. Those that want to be police detectives should be sure to meet all the requirements for the job and work hard to go above and beyond expectations at all levels of the career.
The 30,980 private detectives and PIs across the US reported the following salary ranges:
- 10th percentile: $28,780
- 25th percentile: $37,390
- 50th percentile (median): $50,700
- 75th percentile: $68,400
- 90th percentile: $86,730
By contrast, police detectives and criminal investigators reported substantially higher salary ranges (BLS 2017):
- 10th percentile: $42,880
- 25th percentile: $55,830
- 50th percentile (median): $79,970
- 75th percentile: $105,240
- 90th percentile: $135,530
How To Become A Detective Without Being A Police Officer
As previously mentioned, police detectives may have the ability to select a specialization within their detective division, which will vary by county and state. In addition, there may be continuous training that is necessary due to advances in technology and compliance regulations. Some departments may also regularly research, develop, and implement improvement strategies to enhance the quality of investigation procedures and techniques.
The following list outlines some of these specializations, or divisions that are generally lead by commanders, captains, or lieutenants:
- Homicide and Robbery – Detectives in this unit will focus on cases that involve murders, suspicious deaths, kidnapping, and robberies.
- Forensic – This division includes analysis of various types of physical evidence and digital media found at crime scenes.
- Juvenile – Investigators deal with child abuse, exploitation investigations, and any other juvenile cases.
- Gang and Narcotics – These detectives are responsible for violent street gangs and the use and sale of illegal drugs and firearms.
- Commercial – Commercial crimes include auto theft, and may also include fraud and forgery cases.
- Technical Investigation – This department of investigation includes financial crimes and Internet crimes against children.
- Detective Support and Vice – This department handles hate crimes, missing persons, animal cruelty, human trafficking, and pornography.
- Special Victims Unit (SVU) – These detectives investigate crimes against children, domestic violence, sexual assault, and other violent crimes against adults.