How to Become a Detective

To become a police detective one must first become a police officer. The minimum education requirement for police officers is a high school diploma or GED. However, many police agencies prefer a candidate to have some college education, either an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree in a field related to police work or law enforcement (such as in criminal justice, criminology, criminal law, forensic science etc.). All applicants must be at least 21 years of age, and be a US citizen with a valid driver’s license. Once you have met these requirements you can apply for a police officer position. With any police work it is always a good idea to equip yourself with knowledge of other languages (particularly Spanish, but even dialects such as Ebonics or hand signals). This can also provide opportunity for bonuses.

As laid out in full on the police officer page, there are many steps to go through after applying for a police position to actually being accepted into the police academy and training for the position. First, there are series of written, physical and psychological tests; as well as extensive background checks into your profession and even your personal life. Your performance on these tests dictates whether or not you would be accepted in a police academy for training. After police academy there is a period of field training. During field training you are under the supervision and guidance of a field training officer. Once you have completed field training you finally become a police officer.

Police promotions are granted similar to how any military branch promotes. Ranks are assigned based on years of experience and aptitude. As a police officer you must serve a minimum of 3 to 5 years before you would even be eligible for a promotion to detective or sergeant. Obviously, if your goal is to become a police detective you would go the route of detective rather than sergeant. A test is administered and your record or work history in the police for is taken into consideration prior to promotion.

Once you have earned the title of Detective, you can begin your work as such. Keep in mind that police detective work is not always as glamorous as how Hollywood portrays it. Often there is much more down time than action. Following up on leads, making phone calls, and working on reports is a large part of the detective work. Many hours are spent behind a desk doing the tedious behind the scenes stuff, and not much time is spent actually making arrests. Once a crime has been solved, a detective must then do the follow-up work of being able to make a conviction. This means that all the work it took to solve the crimes needs to be properly documented along the way so that the conviction holds up in court. It also means that many hours will be spent at the courthouse during trials, waiting to testify to the work you have done and the evidence you found.

Detective work can be very rewarding, but it can also be extremely tedious and detail oriented. If you are a person who does not do well documenting everything and being patient when waiting to follow-up on an item then detective work may not be all that you think it will be. On the other hand, if you are detail oriented person who doesn’t mind putting in long hours of tedious labor in order to put a criminal behind bars for a crime they have committed, then it may very well be a perfect fit.

If you are looking to become a detective and you work as a police officer in a smaller city, you may have to go elsewhere for training. Larger cities have on the job training for police detectives. Another training option would be to apply to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s national academy.

How to Become a Homicide Detective

An even more glamorized job on television and in the movies these days is that of a homicide detective. Again, real-life homicide work is likely not as fast paced as you see on TV. Often there is much time between the crime and being able to convict, other times it is pretty much an open and shut case, and unlike the movies, a lot of cases remain unsolved which can be very frustrating. If you are an honest person of integrity with a sense of good judgement you may have what it takes to evaluate crime scenes and evidence as well as interview suspects and witnesses. Following the trail of evidence is very important, rather than making assumptions based off of any other reasoning. It is important for homicide detectives to be level headed with logical reasoning skills. The work can also be very gruesome and depressing. People who want to work homicide need to evaluate if they are emotionally prepared to handle the job in addition to if they are mentally and physically equipped.

If this still sounds like a job you would like to pursue, the first step is becoming a police officer (steps are laid out above under how to become a detective, or in greater detail on the police officer page). Once you have worked as a police officer for 3-5 years you may be eligible for a promotion to detective. Following this promotion an individual would likely need to express interest in homicide and continue training towards this goal. Some police departments consider moving to homicide detective an advance in rank from reaching Detective. It is important to work towards your goals with integrity and perseverance , gleaning as much knowledge and training along the way as one can get.

How to Become a Private Detective

If you are simply looking to become a PI (private investigator) or private detective, you may go a different route than becoming a police officer first. Some PI’s start out working in insurance, collections, accounting, paralegal or other related criminal justice jobs. The bottom line is that you need some work experience in a related field of study.
Some states require that you need to be licensed to work as a private investigator or private detective. It is always wise to check state requirements before pursuing any legal line of work. Also, if you are wanting to carry a gun for protection or otherwise, you always need to require a permit and/or license and registration for the weapon. Make sure you are following all state laws when going into any type of investigative work.

How long does it take to become a detective?

How long it takes to become a police detective depends a lot on the individual person. Since you can’t apply for police work prior to being 21, and training takes a good solid year at least, followed by a minimum of 3 years before being promoted, the minimum age you could possibly achieve the rank of police detective is around 25 after putting in 4 years of police time starting with the academy training. Many people take longer, and many people don’t get accepted into the academy right at 21. Most officers pursue some sort of post-high school education in the field of law enforcement prior to applying for the academy.

How to Become a Detective or Criminal Investigator

There really isn’t a difference between a detective and an investigator, one is a rank description (detective) the other is a job description. Both investigate types of crimes. Criminal investigator is a broad title that covers all types of crimes, including murder, fraud, rape etc. A detective may work these types of crimes as well. Often it depends on the police department or agency as to what a person is called who investigates criminal activity. The only distinction is if it is a specific type of detective of investigator (such as homicide detective). Specific titles can indicate what type of criminal activity the officer investigates and it may be a very narrow field or a very broad field of investigation.

What is the difference between a Detective and a Crime Scene Investigator?

Whereas the difference between a detective and investigator may be minimal or even non-existent. The difference between a detective and a crime scene investigator or CSI is quite large. These days a CSI typically works out of a lab. Very often a CSI may not even visit a crime scene. The detectives collect evidence which is then processed by a CSI in the lab. As for training, a detective must go through the police academy, become a police officer, then be promoted to detective. A CSI does not have to be a police officer first. In fact they could be regular citizens who have a degree in biology or chemistry and are then trained to process evidence. Education programs are cropping up around the country that offer degrees or certificates in CSI work. A person can even find programs that focus specifically on a type of lab work (such as fingerprinting, DNA, toxicology, blood spatter etc.). Larger cities employ many different people to work in specific areas of their crime labs, so these new focused training programs may be a great thing for the outlook of our law enforcement offices and for tracking down criminals with verifiable scientific proof. CSI’s and detectives work hand in hand to solve crimes, but both have very different job descriptions.