How To Become A Detective
Detectives investigate crimes, typically for police departments. Law enforcement agencies use the work of detectives when trying to solve a crime or when collecting evidence for prosecutorial cases. Their work includes conducting interviews of victims, witnesses, and suspects; investigating crime scenes; examining evidence; and making arrests.
Conducting surveillance activities, looking into past records and getting evidence—all these are part and parcel of the job of private detectives. Those who love mysteries and problem solving will find this a very fulfilling career.
Why Become A Detective
Detectives work for various types of law enforcement departments, such as homicide, narcotics, or fraud. When they receive an assignment, they will continue with that investigation until resolution, either through the state’s dropping a case, making an arrest, or concluding a trial.
It takes special skills and qualities to make detectives successful at their jobs:
- Sound judgment
- Effective communicator
- Physically fit
Individuals who have previous law enforcement experience are often preferred by employers because they are already equipped with the skills and training needed to undertake investigations and solve cases.
Detective Work Environment
Detectives work in the field and at a desk. Their work requires constant movement among various locations. Even though much of their work involves examining evidence, interviewing, and writing reports, they also take daily risks while confronting and pursuing suspects. Detectives are more experienced police officers, so they must be physically fit and able to make arrests. Being a detective is a high-risk occupation for illness and injury.
Detectives work fulltime, and their labor extends to evenings, nights, holidays, and weekends. They are often on call and must be available at all times. When they travel, they may visit hospitals, prisons, and individuals’ homes. In fact, they will travel wherever they may find information regarding their cases.
The median annual salary for a detective is $79,870. Paid overtime is common due to the nature of this job. Salary is contingent upon geographic location and experience.
Private detectives receive above-average pay. The profession also has positive employment prospects in the next few years.
Average Detective Annual Salary
The average annual salary for detectives is $83,320 a year. Salaries start at $42,880 a year and go up to $135,530 a year.
Average Detective Hourly Wage
The average hourly wage for a detective is $40.06. Hourly wages are between $20.62 and $65.16 an hour.
Stats were based out of 105,350 employed detectives in the United States.
Highest Paying States For Detectives
- 1. Alaska $55.83 / hr $116,130 / yr
- 2. California $49.91 / hr $103,810 / yr
- 3. New Jersey $48.55 / hr $100,980 / yr
- 4. Maryland $48.02 / hr $99,880 / yr
- 5. Virginia $45.58 / hr $94,800 / yr
Top Paying Cities For Detectives
- 1. Washington, DC $58.47 / hr$121,620 / yr
- 2. San Francisco, CA $58.05 / hr$120,740 / yr
- 3. Los Angeles, CA $57.05 / hr$118,670 / yr
- 4. Oxnard, CA $56.23 / hr$116,950 / yr
- 5. Oakland, CA $54.79 / hr$113,960 / yr
Data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Detective Career Outlook
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, no job growth exists for detectives and other investigators. The most likely cause for this phenomenon is budgetary constraints. It is possible to find employment in this field, especially for those with excellent military and/or law enforcement service records, investigative experience, and the ability to speak languages other than English.
Detectives must first have experience as police officers. At least a high school diploma is required to become a police officer. Many law enforcement officials are encouraged to have collegiate level training in a relevant field. Detectives will need to gain on-the-job experience to advance.
Step 1: Become a police officer. In order to become a police officer, individuals must complete police academy training and meet the following requirements:
- U.S. citizen
- State residency (in accordance with employed department)
- 21 years of age or older (by the time of academy graduation)
- Void of felony record
- Void of misdemeanor record involving domestic violence
- Applicable educational training
Note: There is no one set of educational requirements to become a police officer. While some departments may employ entry-level candidates with just a high school diploma, it is expected that individuals continue to receive adequate training through college-level course work or obtaining a bachelor’s degree.
Step 2: Obtain a bachelor’s degree. Although on-the-job experience is crucial to becoming a detective, pursuing a bachelor’s degree is highly recommended for aspiring detectives. Individuals can either obtain this degree prior to becoming a law enforcement officer, or they can continue their education during employment. Applicable programs include criminal justice, criminology, justice administration, psychology, sociology, forensic psychology, police science, and other relevant fields. It may even be possible to receive financial incentives and compensation for receiving this training while on the job.
Step 3: Gain work experience. Typically, police officers must work a minimum of three years to have the experience necessary for detective work. It is important that individuals notify their superior officers of their desire for advancement. In addition to this, aspiring detectives must work toward their goals by maintaining physical fitness and mental agility.