Careers in Crime Investigation: Options and Requirements
Crime investigation encompasses many careers at the state, federal and local levels. Individuals in these careers work in stressful environments because of demanding schedules and interaction with dangerous criminals. The education requirements for crime investigation careers vary, but all jobs require specialized training and experience.
Police Officers and Detectives
Police officers are the lowest-ranking members in a police department. Typical duties of officers include investigating suspicious activities in their assigned patrol area and responding to complaints from members of the community. Police officers may also help investigations by interviewing witnesses to a crime and gathering evidence. Detectives are police officers who have been promoted and assigned to a unit that investigates a specific type of crime. According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2010, the middle half of detectives earned $50,020-$90,750 and the middle half of police officers received $40,830-$69,070 (www.bls.gov).
The education requirements for police officers vary among departments, but a high school diploma is the standard minimum. Police officer applicants usually must be 21 years old and pass physical and physiological screenings, written exams and a background check. Officers and detectives attend a police academy where they receive law enforcement training in areas including law, firearms, self-defense and report writing. Newly promoted detectives usually complete further training in general investigative techniques, such as interrogation procedures and fingerprint identification. Detectives also receive specialized training related to their field of investigation.
Forensic Science Technicians
Forensic science technicians, also called criminalists, work in laboratories at police departments and state or federal agencies. Technicians analyze and identify physical evidence collected at crime scenes. They also conduct tests and examine evidence to reconstruct crime scenes, establish links between victims and perpetrators, helping to find suspects. The middle 50% of forensic science technicians made $40,670-$66,380 during 2010, according to the BLS.
Forensic science technicians need a bachelor's degree in a program such as forensic science, criminalistics, chemistry, biology or physics. Earning a minor in administration of justice or criminal justice is beneficial because these programs offer courses in investigation procedures and laws concerning evidence. Students can gain experience needed for a forensic science technician career by completing internships at private labs, police crime labs, district attorney's offices and medical examiner's offices. Interns typically act as lab assistants and have duties that include cleaning equipment, preparing crime scene kits and conducting research.
FBI Special Agents
FBI special agents act as the primary investigators within the U.S. government because they investigate more than 200 federal crimes, including terrorism, fraud, human trafficking and organized crime, reported the FBI (www.fbi.gov). FBI agents gather intelligence on criminals and possible security threats by researching records, going undercover and conducting surveillance. According to the FBI, newly hired FBI agents earn about $61,100-$69,900 a year (www.fbijobs.gov).
Individuals 23-37 years old who have a 4-year degree and three years of related work experience can apply to the FBI. Eligible applicants must also pass a drug test, written exam, physical exam, fitness ability test and background investigation. Accepted applicants take part in a 5-month training program in Quantico, VA. The training program includes instruction in firearms, surveillance, forensics, law, interrogation, interviewing, defensive driving and disarming subjects.
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