How to Become a Police Detective in 5 Steps

Discover how to become a police detective. Learn about the required education and training, job outlook and salary information to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Law Enforcement degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Police Detective Requirements and Job Description

Police detectives investigate crimes and usually specialize in a particular area like homicide. They typically work one case until it is closed. They examine crime scenes while being sure to not taint or disrupt evidence, and they gather evidence to solve criminal cases. Sometimes, they must testify in court. The table below provides basic information for this career:

Education Required High school diploma (minimum), bachelor's degree (recommended for career advancement)
Training Required Police academy training
Education Field of Study Law enforcement
Licensure & Certification Civil service exam
Job Growth (2016-26) 5% (for detectives and criminal investigators)*
Mean Salary (2018) $85,020 (for detectives and criminal investigators)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Duties and How To Become a Police Detective

Many police detectives start out as police officers. As a police officer, you'll investigate crimes, gather evidence, conduct raids and make arrests. Depending on the rank and position of officer you make, you can become a detective, traffic cop or a similar law enforcement officer. Police detectives tend to work in one area, such as homicide, narcotics or sexual assault. Below are the specific steps to becoming a detective.

Step 1: Research Police Detective Career Information

To become a police detective, you should be at least 21 years old and hold a high school diploma. Adding college to your police detective education can be useful for career advancement. For instance, to work with the FBI you'll need to have a bachelor's degree. Studying law enforcement or criminal justice can be helpful preparation.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), detectives and criminal investigators are expected to have a 5% employment increase between 2016 and 2026, with a continual desire to improve and maintain public safety ( In 2018, BLS data showed the average salary for these professionals was $85,020.

Step 2: Complete High School

Obtaining a high school diploma is a mandatory step to becoming a police detective. You'll want to take electives that'll work on your physical fitness and build your knowledge of criminal justice and familiarity with psychology theories. Extracurricular sports will benefit your fitness and conditioning, and they're essential to becoming a police officer.

Step 3: Go to College

While the BLS states that a high school diploma is sufficient to become an officer, it's wise to continue your education for career advancement into alternative law enforcement positions. Although not an actual police detective degree, many colleges offer both online and on-campus bachelor's degree programs in law enforcement. These programs introduce you to law, corrections, judicial systems, constitutional rights, juvenile delinquency, criminology and abnormal behavior.

Step 4: Graduate from the Police Academy

With a good application, great references and clean background checks, you'll be admitted into the police academy to undergo rigorous training. Training covers local laws, traffic control, self-defense, gun regulations and safety. If you're under age when you complete this training, you may be placed in an office doing clerical work, until you reach the age of 21.

Step 5: Pass the Civil Service Exam

Some states require you to pass the civil service examination to enroll in your local police academy. For other states, you can sit for a civil service exam to seek employment. Every county and state has its own exams, so whether you want to work for a town, county or state agency, you'll need to sit for separate exams.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Related careers include correctional officers and private detectives/investigators. Correctional officers uphold the rules and safety of jails and prisons, while monitoring inmates. Private detectives/investigators work for individual citizens or entities, gathering sensitive information for cases such as those involving computer crimes or missing persons.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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