Career Profile: Police Detective

School Level Program Admissions

Norwich University

Bachelor Online Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice Website

Norwich University

Master Online Master's in Criminal Justice Website

Utica University

Bachelor Online BS in Criminal Justice Website

Campbellsville University

Associate AS in Criminal Justice Administration Website

Point University

Bachelor Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Website

Campbellsville University

Bachelor BS in Criminal Justice Administration Website

Campbellsville University

Master MS in Justice Studies: Criminology Track Website

View more online criminal justice programs currently accepting applications.

School Level Program Admissions

Campbellsville University

Master MS in Justice Studies: Public Services Leadership and Social Justice Track Website

Concordia University - Saint Paul

Bachelor BA in Criminal Justice Website

Fairleigh Dickinson University

Master Master of Science in Cyber and Homeland Security Website

King University

Bachelor BS in Criminal Justice Website

Notre Dame College

Bachelor Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice  Website

Point University

Associate Associate of Arts in Criminal Justice Website

Thomas Jefferson University

Bachelor B.S. Law Enforcement Leadership Website

Police detectives, also called criminal investigators, are responsible for investigating crimes against persons such as homicides, robberies, burglaries, and assaults, as well as property crimes like fraud, arson, and vandalism. Detectives collect evidence, interview witnesses and victims, interrogate suspects, prepare search and arrest warrant requests, make arrests, and testify in court when necessary. The job is not as glamorous as many television programs would have one believe as most serious crimes are not solved in an hour.

Police Detective Experience Requirements

Police detectives must first work as a police officer, typically in the patrol division, in order to achieve the requisite skills and knowledge necessary to perform the job functions. Unlike uniformed officers, detectives typically wear regular clothing (or plainclothes) instead of uniforms and drive unmarked vehicles.

There are a number of types of detectives, depending upon their specialization: general, homicide, sex crimes, white-collar crimes, narcotics, fraud, burglary, and vice, for example. Oftentimes detectives spend a couple of years in one department before moving to another to broaden their knowledge base and experience and to prevent burnout. Detectives are also frequently assigned to specialized inter- and intra-agency task forces.

Police Detective Education Requirements

Virtually all police detectives begin their careers as patrol officers in order to achieve the requisite experience and knowledge prior to promotion. The general consensus among law enforcement agencies around the country is that patrol officers must work a minimum of two to three years in patrol before being eligible to test for detective, with some departments placing more stringent waiting requirements and other prerequisites upon their officers. More realistically, detectives typically have at least ten years of experience as a police officer in the field prior to promotion to detective.

Educational requirements include a bachelor has degree at the very least€”although some departments will accept an associate has degree€”with a master has degree preferred. Ideal majors include criminal justice, criminology, administration of justice, police science, crime analysis, and forensic science/criminalistics.

Police Detective Careers

Police Detective Salary

Generally, annual salaries for detectives range from $33,000 to $108,000 depending upon experience and geographical location, with the average salary $55,000 per year before various bonuses plus a number of exceptional benefits such as medical, dental, and vision insurance; paid holidays; paid vacation; sick leave; disability; and life insurance. Detectives in highly-specialized areas or members of particular task forces usually have a higher salary because of the specialized skills necessary to perform their job. 

Police Detective Career Outlook

Not unlike police officers, severe budgetary cuts plaguing many states, counties, and cities have resulted in cuts in law enforcement budgets and, therefore, job availability. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) the projected growth rate for police detectives through 2024 is a meager four percent despite steady increases in crime rates across the country.

Due to this low projection it becomes even more important for those desiring this job to ensure that they possess at least the minimum education and experience necessary. Not only will such qualifications improve one has chances of attaining the position but the additional experience and education provide necessary knowledge to increase one has chances of success.

Daily Activities of a Police Detective

  • Collecting, bagging, and analyzing evidence from crime scenes, suspects, victims, and witnesses
  • Interviewing suspects, witnesses, informants, and victims to facilitate reconstruction of a crime
  • Working closely with crime scene investigators and other forensic personnel; some of whom can be difficult
  • Testifying in court and informing jurors
  • Following leads
  • Analyzing information
  • Attending autopsies to gather additional evidence
  • Acting as victim advocates in the search for justice
  • Writing reports
  • Requesting assistance from and/or exchanging information with other law enforcement agencies and/or attorneys
  • Analyzing reports by other law enforcement and/or forensic personnel
  • Taking notes and preparing diagrams at crime scenes
  • Photographing crime scenes effectively to include location, scale, and type of evidence
  • Traveling throughout their own and different jurisdictions while investigating criminal activity
  • Following potentially dead-end leads
  • Keeping detailed records of investigations and interactions with others
  • Performing surveillance on potential suspects

Special Skills for Being a Police Detective

  • A high level of attention to detail and the ability to keep meticulous records
  • The ability to relocate if necessary
  • The ability and willingness to work overtime, nights, weekends, and holidays
  • Excellent interviewing and interrogating skills
  • Creativity in eliciting confessions and piecing together the elements of the crime from the evidence  
  • Thorough knowledge of crime scene processing and how to successfully identify and collect evidence
  • Knowledge of photography, particularly forensic photography, and how to photograph crime scene evidence with close, mid-range, and panoramic shots
  • The capacity to cultivate trust from individuals to ensure their cooperation
  • A high level of patience as some crimes are not easily solved
  • Understanding fingerprint evidence and knowledge of the various databases such as the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS)
  • Effective supervisory skills to ensure effective communication with subordinates
  • Ability to critically think and synthesize information from a number of diverse source

Additional Knowledge Helpful for Police Detectives

  • Rules of evidence and knowledge of the American court system
  • The various definitions of each type of crime
  • Constitutional issues affecting law enforcement activities (e.g. Miranda, Terry stops, proper searches and seizures)
  • Demographics, hot spots, and other necessary information regarding their particular jurisdictional area
  • Chain of command protocol
  • Chain of custody procedures
  • Departmental policies and procedures
  • Law enforcement codes of ethics

Still Looking for a Criminal Justice Program?

Below are some of the top criminal justice degree writeups. You can review the program page, or schools by state to find detailed information about the degree or career.