Police Detective: Career Profile, Job Outlook, and Education Requirements

Explore the career requirements for police detectives. Get the facts about education requirements, salary and employment outlook to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Law Enforcement degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Police Detective?

At minimum, a high school diploma is required to begin a career as a police detective. These professionals work to gather information and evidence in crimes. They visit crime scenes to collect and secure any evidence, and then complete detailed reports and forms concerning the crime. Police detectives will often participate in raids, arrest suspects, conduct interviews and examine records. They can either work in uniform or undercover in plainclothes. Police detectives must be persistent as they typically will continue working on a case until it is dropped or an arrest is made and the trial concludes. Get more information on this career by reviewing details in the table below.

Education Required Police academy training program; postsecondary training preferred
Key Skills Leadership, physical strength, good judgment, communication
Job Growth (2014-2024) -1% (for all detectives and criminal investigators)*
Average Salary (2015) $79,620 (for all detectives and criminal investigators)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is My Police Detective Career Profile?

As a police detective, you are a plainclothes investigator who investigates crime. You interpret evidence, interview witnesses, and arrest suspects if enough probable cause is discovered. A significant amount of your time may be spent observing a suspect, which can involve working irregular hours for a period of days or weeks. Most police detectives start off as uniformed officers before gaining the necessary experience to advance to the detective level.

You may specialize in a field, such as homicide, robbery or fraud. Your police detective work may involve many activities that could be potentially life threatening. Criminal cases are assigned on a rotating basis, and you pursue a case until an arrest is made or the case dropped. Part of successfully solving a case involves keeping accurate and detailed records that can be upheld in a court of law.

How is My Job Outlook?

The police detective and criminal investigator profession is projected to decline by -1% for the 2014-2024 decade, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) (www.bls.gov). The best employment opportunities may be found with local law enforcement agencies or in urban areas with high crime rates. You may experience higher competition for available positions at state and federal agencies. The BLS also listed the average yearly salary for police detectives and criminal investigators as $79,620, as of May 2015.

What Are My Educational Requirements?

You will need to hold a high school diploma to work with most law enforcement agencies. You may help your chances of reaching the detective level by completing a 4-year bachelor's degree program in criminal justice, police science or a related field. As a student in one of these programs, you may take coursework in crime prevention, public relations, emergency planning, criminal psychology, forensic investigation and constitutional law. Keep in mind that you may be able to pursue these college-level credits and receive tuition assistance while working as a police officer.

In addition to classroom training, you usually begin your career as a uniformed police officer after completing a police academy training program. Your police academy training may include instruction in firearms use, emergency vehicle driving, criminal justice, physical fitness, defensive techniques, officer safety and traffic control. You may be considered for promotion to detective after gaining six months to three years of experience as a uniformed officer.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Some similar careers that require a high school diploma or equivalent include security guards and gaming surveillance officers and correctional officers and bailiffs. Security guards and gaming surveillance officers will protect property from theft or other illegal activity. Correctional officers oversee people who have been arrested, including those awaiting trial and those that have already been sentenced. Bailiffs maintain safety and order inside a court of law. Another related career is that of emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics. These professionals need a postsecondary nondegree award, like a certificate, to respond to emergency situations and provide care for those affected.

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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