Police Detective: Occupational Summary and Educational Requirements

Police detectives, sometimes known as special agents, are local or state law enforcement officers who investigate and solve crimes. People who like solving mysteries might enjoy this demanding, high-energy job.

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Occupational Summary for Police Detectives

Unlike uniformed police officers who are assigned geographic areas to patrol for suspicious activities, police detectives work in plainclothes, using observation, interviews and research skills to solve crimes. They may be assigned to investigations of certain types of crimes like homicides or thefts.

As part of their duties, police detectives may collect evidence from crime scenes and secure the areas from tampering. Because their success at gathering information may depend on being trusted by witnesses or sources close to potential suspects, they need to be able to think quickly and have excellent interpersonal skills. Once sufficient evidence is collected, police detectives may make arrests and prepare information for court cases. They maintain files on ongoing investigations and often serve as witnesses in court.

Educational Requirements for Police Detectives

Although certain police departments may prefer candidates who have some college education, most police detectives are only required to have high school diplomas or the equivalent. While in high school, aspiring police detectives can join sports teams or otherwise focus on developing the physical stamina needed for their future careers. Additionally, learning a foreign language may be beneficial for working in certain departments.

For candidates who decide to attend college, choosing majors or courses in criminal justice, administration of justice or psychology may be useful. Police detectives who have some college education may have the benefit of increased salaries. After graduation, future detectives must attend police academy training, which can last for several months. Trainees may receive classroom instruction in federal and state laws, arrest procedures and report writing. They also receive hands-on instruction in such subjects as first aid, firearms use and emergency driving.

Additional Requirements for Police Detectives

Most jurisdictions require that police detectives be U.S. citizens and over the age of 21. There are also physical tests that candidates must pass before being hired, including strength, agility and vision exams. While postsecondary education may not always be a requirement, most police departments do ask that candidates have previous law enforcement experience as police officers. Furthermore, police detectives may be required to participate in additional training annually, covering topics which may include firearms, communication skills, self-defense and legal developments.

Career Outlook for Police Detectives

There were about 119,000 detectives and criminal investigators employed nationally as of 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number of positions for detectives and police officers was expected to increase 7% from 2010-2020, which was slower than average. Detectives and criminal investigators made a mean yearly salary of $77,860 in May 2012.

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Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics