Special Victims Unit (SVU) Detective: Job Description & Salary

What does it take to become a police detective focused on sex crimes and child abuse? Read on to learn about the educational requirements, career experience and job skills needed for this profession. Schools offering Law Enforcement degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Overview

Larger police departments often have a special division or squad of detectives assigned to investigate sex crimes and, sometimes, non-sexual crimes involving children. Its detectives are experienced officers who work to secure convictions in these types of cases. The following chart shows the education requirements, job skills and potential pay for this career.

Educational Requirements High school diploma; some jobs require college coursework or the completion of a degree program
Fields of Study Law enforcement, criminal justice
Training Required Police academy training; police experience is also often required
Job Growth (2018-2028) 3% (detectives and criminal investigators)*
Median Salary (2018) $81,920 (detectives and criminal investigators)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is a Special Victims Unit?

The term SVU was popularized by NBC's ''Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,'' a hit TV show based on the New York Police Department's Special Victims Division, which investigates sex crimes and child abuse. In the Los Angeles Police Department, sex crimes may be investigated by the Detective Support and Vice Division or the Robbery-Homicide Division, with child abuse cases handled by the Juvenile Division.

The Chicago Police Department has a Special Investigations Unit that investigates sex crimes against children. The Houston Police Department's Special Victims Division addresses adult and child sex crimes as well as abuse of the elderly. The Miami-Dade Police Department has a Sexual Crimes Investigations Unit that is assigned all sex-related crimes involving children or adults.

What Are the Requirements to Become a Detective?

A high school diploma or the equivalent is generally required to join any police department. Some positions also require a college degree or a certain number of credit hours. Coursework in subjects like criminal justice and law enforcement could be helpful in this career.

Candidates normally must graduate from a police academy to join the force. This training includes a combination of lecture courses and field experience in everything from constitutional and local law to firearms and first aid training. A promotion to detective usually requires years of police experience.

What Does the Job Entail?

Detectives specializing in sex crimes or child abuse go to crime scenes, interview witnesses, work with crime scene investigators and pursue leads to identify suspects. They may make arrests and work with prosecutors to build a case against suspects. Detectives often testify in criminal trials, explaining to juries how their investigation developed and presenting an overview of the evidence against the defendant.

What Job Skills Are Needed?

Good detectives are astute observers and problem solvers. Attention to detail, an understanding of human psychology and the ability to analyze a wide range of physical and eyewitness evidence are all assets that help detectives solve crimes. Excellent oral and written communication skills are also essential for both the investigative and the court-related aspects of their jobs.

What Salaries Do They Earn?

The median salary for all U.S. police and detectives in 2018 was $63,380, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Detectives typically have more experience and earn more than patrol officers. The median salary for detectives and criminal investigators in this year was $81,920.

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