Detectives and Criminal Investigators
Degrees and Education
|Recommended Degree Level||Certificate or Higher|
|Number of Jobs, 2012||109,230|
|Annual Job Growth Rate||2.5%|
|Job Openings per Year (est.)||3,010|
- Larger law enforcement agencies require advanced degrees, such as certificate, associate's or bachelor's degree in law enforcement or related major, and training through an outside educational facility or an internal training program.
- A bachelor's degree in a criminal justice or related area of study is usually required in order to start a career with a federal law enforcement agency.
- A high school diploma may be all that is required in order to obtain an entry-level policing job in smaller venues.
Along with regular classroom hours in constitutional law, ethics, investigative techniques and other elements of law enforcement instruction, prospective criminal investigators and detectives typically undergo specialized training in the handling of firearms, proper shooting techniques and self-defense methods to prepare them for the challenges of their new career. Even after a four-year course of university studies, most aspiring detectives and investigators must work their way up to these elevated positions of responsibility and trust in the law enforcement environment.
Shows a quick overview of criminal investigator work. Produced for the US Department of Labor.
A Day in the Life
As a criminal investigator, you will most likely find work in the public sector as part of an investigative team or law enforcement agency. Wherever you work, you will need to put your people skills to work. You are likely to encounter a great many colorful personalities during your investigations.
Whether you work in the public or the private sector, you will almost always be spending time in both the office environment and the field. You will visit crime scenes to collect clues and evidence. Trips to courthouses and police stations may also be part of your everyday working routine.
In the course of a typical day at work, your activities may include the following:
- Using a computer to perform searches on public and private databases
- Preparing background reports on financial and personal information
- Visiting police stations and court houses to obtain copies of public records
- Obtaining signed authorizations for the release of records
- Examining crime scenes and obtaining statements from witnesses
- Interviewing suspects
- Creating detailed progress reports of ongoing investigations
Depending on the working environment, you may need to carry a gun. If this is necessary, your employer will train you to use it safely and effectively.
You can also choose to specialize in a particular area of investigative work. As a forensic investigator, you may need to examine blood spatter patterns to reconstruct a crime. If you choose a career as an arson investigator, you will look for evidence of criminal activity at the scene of suspicious fires. Smaller agencies may ask you to perform all of these specialized duties and to staff the front desk, set up drunk driving checkpoints and provide moral support for victims during the course of a single day.
Certifications and Licensing
Detectives and criminal investigators in the public service environment typically require no additional certification or licensing apart from their law enforcement badge. In order to earn that badge, however, law enforcement detectives and investigators must meet stringent standards of personal conduct and may undergo polygraph investigations and background checks in order to gain employment at the higher levels of criminal investigations. State licensing is generally required for criminal investigators who perform their casework outside the public law enforcement framework.
Full-time versus part-time: Almost all jobs in the criminal investigation field are full-time positions requiring significant overtime availability. Because these jobs are regarded as necessary for public safety, minimal flexibility is available for work schedules and shift scheduling is typically enforced at all levels of the occupation. Newcomers to the field or the working environment may be assigned less desirable shifts and duties as preference is most often given to investigators and detectives with seniority in the workplace environment.
Recommended WebsitesThese websites offer the most comprehensive and up-to-date information for individuals interested in careers as detectives or criminal investigators.
- U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Handbook -- One of the most comprehensive sources for statistical and salary information on the Internet, this website provides in-depth information on the job prospects and expected working environments for detectives and criminal investigators.
- United States Association of Professional Investigators -- Open to all professional investigators in the private and public sectors, the U.S. Association of Professional Investigators offers benefits for members and podcasts that can provide added insight into the workflows and activities of criminal investigators and detectives in the modern world.
- National Association of Legal Investigators -- Founded in 1967, this organization is designed to serve the needs of private investigators in the field of litigation investigation. The website offers links and resources designed to provide support for investigators working on behalf of plaintiffs in civil and criminal legal cases.
- Criminal Defense Investigation Training Council -- This website delves more deeply into the philosophical underpinnings and legal ramifications of the criminal investigation process. Designed specifically to help investigators in defense cases understand the processes and legal implications of various actions, this is an outstanding resource for public and private sector detectives and investigators.
- U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation -- The federal agency responsible for criminal investigations within U.S. borders, the FBI is one of the best-known and most comprehensive sources for information on ongoing criminal investigation techniques and news in the field of law enforcement throughout the country.