How to Become a Detective, sometimes known as investigators, is typically employed by law enforcement agencies; however, they are not confined to this field. Police detectives are experts in investigating many crimes, whereas police officers are the first responders to an occurrence.
How to Become a Detective? Explore this hard career path in this post, which covers detective needs and vital abilities, as well as schooling, the various roles detectives play, and who employs detectives.
Police Detective versus Police Officer
The tasks of a police detective and a police officer are similar. However, it is crucial to remember that a person must first serve as a police officer for five to seven years before becoming a police detective.
Dispatch centers send outcalls, which police officers respond to. These calls might be emergency calls requiring immediate attention or non-emergency calls to which police officers reply as quickly as possible. Police officers also monitor traffic safety, issue traffic citations, handle traffic accident scenes, crowd control, arrest and transport offenders, serve warrants, and testify in court.
Unlike police officers, police detectives are brought in to investigate specific offences. They assume command and direct the first responders, who are police officers. By the time the detectives arrive, the police officers usually have asked whether there are any witnesses and recorded basic information from those witnesses, leaving the detectives to conduct in-depth questioning.
Detectives and officers from the police department gather evidence, which they then investigate with the help of other experts such as forensic scientists for clues. Interviewing witnesses, victims, and suspects, obtaining warrants to search crime scenes, putting the information together with other specialists and partner agencies into some coherent whole to guide them to a conclusion, and testifying in court are everyday responsibilities of a police detective.
Detectives and investigators work full-time and are required to be on-call in the event of an emergency outside of usual working hours. Their professions entail a lot of public contact and come with many risks, including exposure to blood-borne viruses and infectious diseases and facing suspects who are possibly armed and violent.
Police Detective Specializations
Detectives work in certain locations where they specialize in a specific type of crime. During a police detective’s career, they will have the option to shift to several areas of interest. The following are some examples of specializations:
- Special Victims Crimes such as crimes against children, domestic violence, and rape
- Crimes committed on the web, such as child pornography
- Crimes that involve fraud and other criminal behaviours related to commercial enterprises
- Gang-related crimes
- Robbery and burglary
- Undercover investigations
This is only a partial list because law firms’ specialty areas and specialties differ from one place to the next.
Detectives in other Fields
- Private investigators typically learn on the job and may need some licensure depending on where they work. Private investigators do not have legal authority. They are often hired by private clients for surveillance and security purposes, finding missing persons, gathering desired information for clients, and doing background checks.
- Insurance investigators interview and investigate the truthfulness of insurance claims.
- Detectives for public and private attorneys interview and investigate on behalf of their employer’s clients.
- Store detectives investigate theft and other types of criminal behaviour committed inside stores.
- Computer forensics experts examine cellphones, computers, and other electronics.
- Although the criteria for detectives vary by jurisdiction, there are some standard requirements and required competencies that can be applied to the job description.
- The ability to communicate verbally and in writing
- Ability to prioritize and attend to more than one thing at the same time
- Job duties require physical and mental stamina
- Basic computer skills include email, data entry and records searches, and writing software such as Microsoft Word.
- Experience with software for crime scene management, crime information databases, and computer-aided composite drawing
- Comfortable with using handcuffs, polygraphs, fingerprinting and using surveillance equipment
Skills & Personality Traits of the Successful Detective
Before applying to become a police detective, consider what personality traits and skills will most likely lead to a successful career in this sector. The following are some examples of abilities and characteristics:
- A strong sense of awareness and perception of surroundings and people
- Intuitiveness and an ability to use available resources
- Assertiveness and confidence to lead
- Self-motivated and disciplined
- Highly organized and good at time-management
- Non-judgmental and objective
- An inclination for problem-solving
- Empathetic demeanour and active listening skills
- Patience when dealing with the public and frustrating situations
Detective Salary Range and the Top Paying States
According to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics (BLS), the median annual pay for detectives and criminal investigators in 2019 was $83,170, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and prospects for advancement in this area are predicted to increase by 5% between 2019 and 2029. Therefore, candidates who have served in the military may have an advantage when applying for these roles. However, keep in mind that pay is frequently linked to living expenses.
According to Forbes Magazine, the top five paying states for detectives are:
- Alaska with an average salary of $113,420.
- Hawaii, with an average salary of $109,320
- California, with an average salary of $107,760
- New Jersey, with an average salary of $103,460
- Massachusetts with an average salary of $102,350
How to Become a Detective
It takes several steps to become a detective. It is not a vocation that can be entered after getting a degree, but rather one that necessitates years of training and experience. The stages differ from department to department. However, there usually are four phases to becoming a detective.
1. Earn the Degree You Need to Become a Detective
Typically, police investigators begin their careers as policemen. Although a GED or high school diploma may suffice for some police officer roles, many agencies insist on a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, law enforcement, or a similar profession. As a result, associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs are offered for aspiring investigators online and in a traditional university or college environment.
Courses in criminal law, criminology, human relations, judicial function, forensic science, and criminal process are available to students. Taking foreign language classes is also an excellent choice. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), knowing a foreign language might help prospective investigators, especially in urban areas. Some programs also contain an internship component, which allows students to gain hands-on experience in the profession.
Four Top Criminal Justice Schools
According to the website Niche, the four top universities and colleges for criminal justice/criminology are:
- University of Pennsylvania
- University of California–Irvine
- CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice
- Florida State University
However, there are many outstanding programs provided by schools of higher education throughout the country.
2. Complete Police Training Academy
To be trained as a police officer, you must be at least 21 years old and a citizen of the United States. He may also be subjected to drug and polygraph tests. In addition, before beginning to serve as officers, police recruits must undergo training academy programs and generally pass written and physical examinations.
These programs are offered by individual police departments, as well as state and federal entities. Handgun training, self-defence, traffic control, and first aid combine physical activity with classroom instruction. As a result, state and municipal laws should be well-understood by police school graduates.
3. Develop Skills and Fitness
Detectives should be in good physical and mental shape. They can do so by exercising and training regularly, better preparing them to deal with danger and stress. In addition, brushing up on new tactics and technologies can help detectives keep their minds sharp. Because of the rise in cybercrime, studying computer forensics, for example, might be incredibly beneficial.
To execute their tasks, detectives must be extremely sensitive and observant. For a detective, the ability to pay close attention to detail is essential. Individuals should hone these abilities on the job by paying close attention to crime scenes and accidents and learning how to document facts in reports.
4. Build Work Experience and Pass Exams
Detectives are often picked from among current police officers; therefore, aspiring detectives should communicate their interests to superior officers to be considered for promotion. Before being eligible for detective roles, several agencies require police officers to serve for an average of five to seven years.
Potential police detectives must complete exams specific to this employment role in addition to having real-world field experience. Within agencies, promotion to police detective is typically based on a person’s position on a promotion list, scores on agency tests, and an assessment of their work as a police officer.
The National Detective/Investigator Test is one of the exams commonly utilized across the country for police officers who want to be promoted to a detective (NDIT). Investigative Interviewing, Criminal Investigations, and Key Court Cases are the three major categories covered by the exam. Those who want to take this test must go over information from three separate textbooks and use a study guide to help them. It is a written test with roughly 75 questions.
The Police Detective Test is another exam (PDET). This is a test to see if a candidate for police detective has the requisite skills and abilities to succeed in this post. Candidates for the PDET are given a reading list to assist them in preparing for the 100-question test, which focuses on three significant aspects when evaluating an individual:
- Police Investigative Procedures: assesses how well the candidate understands standard operating procedures, including, but not limited to, interviewing protocols and collecting and securing evidence
- Laws Related to Police Work: what does the candidate know of the law as it pertains to the police detective role
- Concepts for Writing & Completing Reports, Records and Paperwork: a candidate can write reports and fill out warrants.
Day in the Life of a Detective
Even though you’ve been out all night on-call reviewing the site of a homicide at a private property, the morning starts early. Unless you’re undercover, you’ll dress in plain clothing with your badge on a lanyard or clipped to your belt, and secure your gun, perhaps two, one on your waist and the other on your ankle. Then, you get into your unmarked take-home car and drive to the precinct.
When you get to work, you check your voicemail and reply to any urgent messages before organizing and prioritizing your day according to your caseload. Interviews with witnesses from the previous night’s crime scene are scheduled, and then you begin the process of evaluating evidence, which includes photographs and other objects discovered at the scene. You jot down your thoughts before moving on to another, older case you’re working on.
As the afternoon approaches, you don your suit jacket, double-check that your weapons are secure, and head out for a quick bite to eat before heading to your interviews. You’ve already planned out the first questions you’ll ask, and you’ll alter your questions for each interview based on the information you get. You take notes on every witness you speak with and try to distinguish between fact and opinion. A pattern emerges at some time, and you become increasingly sure of the suspect’s identification.
Are you willing to take on the challenge?
Whether for law enforcement or another agency, working as a detective is cognitively, emotionally, and physically demanding, but it can also be a rewarding and meaningful job. For example, suppose you appreciate a good puzzle, want to help people in your community, assess a situation quickly and accurately, and speak with the public, including building a quick relationship with strangers. In that case, this could be the career for you.