Detectives and Criminal Investigators Overview

Detective and criminal investigators can have varied levels of education, from a high school diploma to a college degree or higher. Competition for jobs in State and Federal agencies is extremely competitive. Detective and criminal investigators who are most qualified will have the best job opportunities at police departments. The best opportunities for detective and criminal investigators will be for those who are bilingual as well as college trained in police science or with military police experience.

Nature of the Work for Detectives and Criminal Investigators

Detectives and Criminal Investigators

The work of a detective and criminal investigator, sometimes referred to as an agent or special agent, involves protecting peoples’ lives and property while collecting evidence and gathering facts for criminal cases. A detective’s job is to issue citations or warnings to individuals who break the law. Detectives will spend a lot of time writing reports or keeping records of any incidents they may come across. Detectives will also gather facts and collect evidence as well as other investigative duties.

The work of a detective depends on where you work, such as a local, State, or Federal agency as well as their occupational specialty. The duties a detective may perform in a Federal agency to enforce aspects of the law can also vary. No matter where they work, report writing and keeping detailed records are the most important part of a detective’s job, especially if they are needed to testify in court.

Also known as plainclothes investigators, some detectives will be assigned to interagency task forces depending on the specific crime that needs to be combated. The work of a detective can involve examining records, conducting interviews, participating in raids or arrests, and observing suspects’ activities. Homicide and fraud are examples of violations as detectives will usually specialize in one type of violation. Once cases are assigned to detectives on a rotating basis, detectives will work on the case until it is either dropped or an arrest is made.

Principle investigators, also known as Federal Bureau of Investigation agents (FBI), conduct security investigations as well violations occurring in over 200 categories of Federal law. These investigators can examine business records, investigate white-collar crime, conduct surveillance or participate in undercover assignments. The criminal activity that the FBI investigates ranges from public corruption, organized crime, bank robbery, financial crime, terrorism, espionage, kidnapping, cyber crime or drug trafficking.

On-the-job injury and illness can be extremely prevalent for detectives. Detectives and criminal investigators must always be prepared for different threatening situations that can occur as well as how to deal with criminals. The work of a detective and criminal investigator can take a toll on their private lives since many can witness suffering or even death from situations such as car accidents or other forms of criminal behavior.

The typical workweek for a detective is 40 hours with paid overtime if necessary. Since protection must be provided around the clock, many detectives and criminal investigators will work varying shifts. With this said, detectives may be required to work long hours during investigations or whenever they are needed. Detectives and criminal investigators, on or off duty, are expected to exercise their authority when necessary as well as be armed.

Training, Other Qualifications and Advancement for Detectives and Criminal Investigators

Even though the education requirements for detective and criminal investigators can vary, most learn what they need to know on the job, such as their agency’s training academy. The regulations of the civil service will appoint detective and criminal investigators in most States, special police agencies, smaller jurisdictions, and large municipalities. The requirements are that they must be at least 21 years old, a U.S. citizen, and personal as well as physical qualifications.

Detective and criminal investigators should usually at least have a high school diploma while some departments will require 1 or 2 years of college coursework or a college degree. The competitiveness, stamina, and agility needed can be developed by taking physical education classes and participating in sports. For detective and criminal investigators in many Federal agencies and urban departments, knowing a foreign language is beneficial.

Courses or training related to subjects of law enforcement are encouraged by state and local agencies for applicants after high school. Many universities, colleges, or junior colleges will offer programs in administration of justice or law enforcement. Some agencies will even help pay portions of tuition for those seeking degrees in police science, administration of justice, public administration or criminal justice.

Civil service regulations govern the appointment of detectives in most special police agencies, smaller jurisdictions, large municipalities and States. Candidates must be at least 21 years old, meet demanding physical and personal qualifications as well as be a U.S. citizen. Detective and criminal investigators looking for entry-level jobs will most likely complete physical examinations that test hearing, vision, agility, and strength. Written examinations as well as education and experience will also be considered.

Detective and criminal investigators should possess characteristics such as honesty, integrity, and responsibility. They should also enjoy interacting with people and the public. Those applying to agencies may be interviewed by a psychologist or psychiatrist and given a personality test.

Detective and criminal investigators can improve their job performance by continuing their training. Instructors will provide detective and criminal investigators training in firearms, use-of-force policies, communication skills and self-defense tactics.

Top 10 Most Popular Criminal Justice & Law Enforcement Schools

1. CUNY John Jay College Criminal Justice (New York, New York)
2. Colorado Technical University (Multiple Campus Locations)
3. Western Illinois University, Macomb (Macomb, Illinois)
4. Columbia College, Columbia, MO (Columbia, Missouri)
5. Pennsylvania State University, Main Campus (University Park, Pennsylvania)
6. Park University, NW River Park Dr. (Kansas City, Missouri)
7. Michigan State University (East Lansing, Michigan)
8. St. John's University, Queens (Jamaica, New York)
9. Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond (Richmond, Virginia)
10. University of Louisville (Louisville, Kentucky)

See All Criminal Justice & Law Enforcement Schools

See All Online Criminal Justice & Law Enforcement Schools

Employment and Job Outlook for Detectives and Criminal Investigators

Number of People in Profession

110,380

Changing Employment (2008-2018)

Employment is projected to grow about as fast as average (increase 7 - 13%).

Qualified detective and criminal investigators will have the best job opportunities in local police departments. Competition will be extremely high in State and Federal agencies.

Employment growth as well as those who retire or leave the local agencies for private-sector security jobs or Federal jobs will also create openings for detective and criminal investigator jobs. Detective and criminal investigators who are bilingual with college training or military experience will have the best job opportunities in State or local departments.

The level of employment for detective and criminal investigators will depend on government spending meaning jobs can vary year to year as well as place to place.

Earnings and Salary for Detectives and Criminal Investigators

Median annual wages of detectives and criminal investigators are $62,110. The middle 50 percent earn between $47,070 and $83,650. The lowest 10 percent earn less than $37,960, and the highest 10 percent earn more than $99,980.

Annual Salary for Detectives and Criminal Investigators

On average, Detectives and Criminal Investigators earn $62,110 per year.

10% 25% 75% 90% $37,960/yr $47,070/yr $83,650/yr $99,980/yr

Hourly Wage for Detectives and Criminal Investigators

On average, Detectives and Criminal Investigators earn $29.86 per hour.

10% 25% 75% 90% $18.25 $22.63 $40.22 $48.07

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook