Overview of how to become a detective

Last updated: July 23, 2024
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Eleana Bowman
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Overview of how to become a detective
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Do you have a passion for solving mysteries and uncovering the truth? Becoming a detective can be an exciting and rewarding career, but it takes hard work, dedication, and a willingness to go above and beyond. These professionals are crucial to the criminal justice system, and they have a unique responsibility that requires excellent communication skills, inquisitiveness, and patience.

If you want to learn how to become a detective, from background information to the different career paths available and daily job duties, this article has you covered. We’ll also discuss the job outlook and demand for detectives so that you can decide whether this is the right path for you.

What is a detective?

A detective is an investigator, often employed by a police department or private organization, responsible for identifying and resolving criminal cases. Detectives use their soft skills of observation, analysis, and research to uncover facts and evidence that can help solve a case. They also interview witnesses or victims to gain more insight into the crime.

In law enforcement agencies, detectives are often seen as having a higher status than entry-level law enforcement professionals. This is because their work requires more specialized knowledge and training than a patrol officer. As such, police detectives usually have the authority to conduct investigations independently or in partnership with other law enforcement agencies.

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If you have a passion for uncovering the truth and a creative problem-solving nature, then becoming a detective could be a perfect fit for you. This is an engaging and lucrative career, with over 14,700 detectives currently employed in the United States alone. With a strong sense of justice and the right qualifications, achieving great success in this field is possible.

Types of detective career paths

It's common for a detective to specialize in a specific area, such as homicide detectives, fraud, or criminal investigation. However, you can still change fields after gaining experience in a particular type of investigation. The following are some of the different types of careers you can choose from:

Homicide detective

One of the most common types of detective, homicide detective, investigates murders or suspicious deaths. They’re responsible for gathering evidence and tracking down suspects to find justice for the victims and their families. It can be an incredibly challenging and emotionally taxing job to working on crime scenes, but it can also offer a sense of accomplishment when a case is solved.

Private investigator

Private individuals or companies hire private investigators to investigate matters not in the public domain. This can include cheating spouses, fraud, or corporate espionage. Private investigators often have to be highly discreet and creative to find the truth in a case, which can be both challenging and rewarding.

Missing person detective

Most missing person detectives work in partnership with law enforcement agencies to help reunite families with their lost loved ones. These detectives work to locate missing persons and often reconstruct the circumstances around their disappearance. This can involve interviewing witnesses, gathering evidence, and establishing connections between people and places.

Cold case detective

When older cases are reopened, detectives with experience in cold cases are often called on to investigate. Detectives may have to use outdated technology and techniques when dealing with cold cases, as well as sifting through archives and records from decades ago. It can be incredibly challenging but also rewarding to bring peace to those who have waited a long time for answers.

Cybercrimes detective

Cybercrime detectives specialize in investigating computer-related crimes, such as online fraud and identity theft. Their job involves gathering digital evidence, tracking down the culprits, and helping to bring them to justice. As technology has advanced, so too has the number of crimes committed through digital platforms.

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If you’re looking for a thrilling career in detective work, there are many different avenues to explore. Whether you’re searching for truth in a homicide case or tracking down an online criminal, detective work can be incredibly fulfilling.

Daily job duties of a detective

The daily job duties of a detective can vary depending on the type of investigation they are assigned to but generally involve tasks to collect and preserve evidence, interview suspects and witnesses, write detailed reports, collaborate with other law enforcement officers, and testify in court.

Interviewing suspects and witnesses

One of the main tasks of detectives is to interview suspects and witnesses in order to gain more information about a case. This can involve careful questioning, working with evidence, and analyzing statements to build a clearer picture of the situation.

Many detectives undergo advanced interviewing and evidence-gathering training in order to be more effective at conducting interviews. With experience and skill, detectives can become very skilled in persuading people to provide information and build detailed profiles of suspects.

Collecting and preserving evidence

Detectives also have to collect evidence relating to their cases, such as DNA or security footage. This is done with the utmost care to avoid any evidence contamination and ensure that it retains its integrity.

Most states have strict protocols for collecting and preserving evidence, which detectives must closely follow. This can include properly labeling evidence bags and other items, maintaining a detailed chain of custody, and documenting accurately what evidence has been collected.

Writing detailed reports

To keep track of their investigations and provide evidence for court, detectives have to write clear and accurate reports throughout the process. These reports may include detailed descriptions of evidence, witness statements, and an in-depth analysis of the case.

Without this kind of documentation, a case can be challenging to prove in court. Lawyers, judges, and law enforcement officers need to be able to trust the accuracy of a detective’s reports for the case to move forward.

Testifying in court

In some cases, detectives may have to testify in court and provide evidence or information they’ve gathered throughout their investigation. This can be emotionally taxing, as detectives must be very precise in their testimony and present their evidence clearly.

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When detectives must present evidence in court, their reports become even more critical as they are used to back up the detective’s findings. Being able to write and deliver clear, concise reports is essential in order to be a respected detective.

Collaborating with other law enforcement officers

Detectives often collaborate with other law enforcement officers or police departments to investigate and solve cases. This may involve coordinating activities, sharing information, and working together to find the truth. It's often required when working on large or complex cases, such as homicides or other serious crimes.

Overall, detectives have a wide range of duties that require them to be discreet and creative in their investigations. It can be exciting to work a criminal justice job, but it also involves dealing with challenging cases and difficult people. As such, detectives must be patient and pay strong attention to detail to succeed.

How to become a detective

While each state and law enforcement agencies have requirements for becoming a detective, there are some general qualifications and steps you can take to increase your chances of being hired.


Most states require detectives to have at least a high school diploma or GED equivalent, though some may ask for additional education beyond high school. This can include a degree in criminal justice, psychology, or sociology. Additionally, some agencies may require detectives to have an advanced degree to qualify for certain positions.

It takes around four years to complete a criminal justice degree program, but only around six months of training to complete a police training academy course. Both paths can help you become a detective, so it's up to your preference which one you choose.

Attend the police academy

To become a detective, you usually need to attend a police academy, even if you pursue a college degree. The training varies depending on the state and agency but usually includes courses in criminal law, evidence collection and preservation, investigative techniques, and other topics related to crime-solving.

It takes anywhere from six months to a year to complete the training and pass all of the necessary exams. Once you've completed the program, you'll receive a certificate or diploma and may be eligible for some police jobs.

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Gain relevant work experience

After completing training at the police academy, aspiring detectives will be required to gain relevant experience by working as police officers. This involves patrolling, responding to 911 calls, conducting traffic stops and investigations, writing reports, and making arrests.

The amount of experience needed to become a detective varies by agency, but most require at least three to five years on the job before they consider promotion. Working as a police officer teaches you the basics of law enforcement and provides an understanding of the criminal justice system, which can be invaluable when you become a detective.

Pass exams and interviews

Many law enforcement agencies require a written exam and an oral interview to be promoted to detective. The exams are typically multiple-choice tests that cover topics related to criminal justice, including ethics, the court system, report writing, and evidence collection.

The interviews may ask you about your experience as a police officer and how you would approach specific scenarios as a detective. It's important to be prepared for these tests and interviews, as they will determine whether or not you are promoted.

If you meet all the requirements, you can apply to become a detective in your state or local law enforcement agency. The hiring process usually takes several months and involves background checks to evaluate criminal records, a psychological exam, and physical fitness tests.

Detectives play a critical role in the criminal justice system, and their work can positively impact society. If you are passionate about assisting others and want to make a difference in your community, becoming a detective may be the right career in law enforcement.

Be sure to research all the requirements and qualifications necessary for the job to increase your chances of success.

Job outlook and demand for detectives

As with any career, the job outlook and demand can fluctuate depending on a variety of factors.

The outlook for private detectives and investigators is expected to be bright, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expecting employment in this field to grow 6% over the next decade. This demand for detectives is largely linked to population growth, economic development, technological advances, and those retiring from the field.

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Several cities in the US have higher-than-average salaries and demand for detectives. For example, Anchorage, Alaska, is the highest-paying city for detectives, with an annual salary of over $130,000. Other cities in the US that pay above average include Brunswick, Georgia; Hagerstown-Martinsburg, West Virginia; Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, District of Columbia; and Nassau-Suffolk, New York. These areas are known for having higher crime rates and increased demand for investigative services, making them ideal places to work as a detective.

Starting a criminal justice career as a detective is an exciting prospect and can be very rewarding. With the proper training, qualifications, and job experience, you may find a job in this field that pays well and offers opportunities for personal growth. As long as you are ready to meet the job requirements and stay up-to-date with trends in law enforcement, becoming a detective can be a great career.

Start working as a detective today

If you're ready to venture into a career as a detective, it's necessary to understand that it's a lengthy process. You'll need to gain fundamental experience as a police officer, pass any required tests or interviews, and go through the hiring process.

Additionally, it's crucial to be aware of the job outlook and demand for detectives in different cities around the US. With the right qualifications and commitment, you can pursue a rewarding career as a detective that pays well and allows you to make a difference in your community.

Be sure to utilize the Getting Hired Resource Center for help building resumes, interviewing tips, and job postings.



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