How To Become A Detective [Step by Step]

how to become a detective

If you plan to pursue a detective or private investigator career, you should know a few factors to break into the profession.

However, despite the fact that a career in law enforcement is not an easy decision, detectives and private investigators are very popular because of the profession’s excitement, responsibility, and opportunities. Therefore, having realistic career objectives is crucial, as well as realizing that this field is very challenging.

You may be considering becoming a detective or private investigator, so here are some tips for getting started.

What Is A Detective?

Professionals who work as detectives are responsible for gathering information and investigating situations to resolve criminal cases or gather information about civil lawsuits. It is usual for detectives to invest a lot of time in crime. By conducting this research, they better understand the suspects and crime scene conditions. The facts can be analyzed and assembled when they gather the necessary information to determine the best investigation method.

It is possible to find a detective working within the firearms squad, which investigates and responds to firearms crimes – potentially including hostage or active shooter situations.

In addition, it is possible to work in one of these units in the form of undercover police work or assisting with complex investigations. Last, the child protection department, the national security division, and the anti-terrorism division can employ detectives. Different skills and education are required for these types of detective work.

For entry into any of these specialty units, individuals will need to complete additional professional training, and you can transfer between them as your career progresses. In addition, in most police forces, there will be different departments, which may differ in size, and competition may be fierce.

To conduct an investigation, a detective must collect, evaluate and verify information, formulate strategies, coordinate with colleagues, and decide what to do. In addition, they might analyze data, draft case files and documentation, prepare exhibits, and handle forensic evidence as part of their job. Therefore, it’s also important for a detective to know their civil rights to ensure they do the job correctly.

As part of the detective career, an individual is responsible for selecting and recruiting informants, conducting raids and arrests – depending on the circumstances – gathering witness testimony, and questioning witnesses.

In addition, in a detective police role, they will communicate effectively with various external and internal parties, for example, the courts, counselors, and educational institutions, and maintain a close relationship with all team members, keeping abreast of current procedures and legislation as well.

When a police officer is first hired, it is during those years that the foundation of criminal justice knowledge is developed and basic law enforcement skills are learned. Although the candidate must have worked as a patrol officer for an extended period, once you receive approval from your supervisor or a formal college degree required for advancement, they may upgrade your position to a detective.

Usually, one or more detectives will be assigned to each organized team, forming part of an investigation. In specialized training, detectives can work alone or with other detectives, and they can also work with patrolmen and other federal, state, and local agencies.

The more experience detectives gain, the more likely they are to be transferred to larger departments or units. Supervisor or leader positions may become available to them.

Importance Of Detectives In Criminal Justice

Detectives are investigators, typically members of law enforcement agencies. Witnesses and informants are often used to collect information about crimes while gathering evidence or examining records in a database. By doing so, they can arrest criminals and bring them to justice. Without detectives, those who commit crimes would get away with it and most likely re-offend.

Responsibilities Of A Detective

responsibilities of a detective How To Become A Detective
  • Criminal investigations and prosecutions.
  • Preservation, analysis, and collection of evidence
  • During a crime scene, a detective supervises and directs the work of others who are involved in law enforcement.
  • Utilize inductive reasoning to reach an informed conclusion that leads to prosecution.
  • Keep accurate records of cases and report on them in detail.
  • Ensure searches and arrests are carried out, and suspects are placed under arrest.
  • Whether or not the defendant is guilty must be proven in court through evidence and findings.
  • Utilize electronic surveillance and firearms for surveillance purposes.
  • Multimedia and computer skills
  • Skills such as analytical abilities, problem-solving abilities, logical reasoning, and dexterity in overcoming social difficulties
  • Having a flexible work schedule
  • We recommend you have a graduate degree in criminal justice or a similar field.

The Steps To Become A Detective

1. Complete Police Academy Training

How To Become A Detective complete police academy training

As a police detective, you will have a more fulfilling career opportunity than as a private investigator. A police academy is the next step.

Candidates for police academies must be citizens of the United States and 18 years of age or older, irrespective of the requirements of the department and region. In addition, to qualify, you must have a driver’s license, have never committed a felony, and earned some college credits.

For state and federal positions, an undergraduate degree is typically required. Generally, a police academy lasts six to eight months, covering firearms training, police protocol, morals, personal safety, writing reports, emergency care, health and fitness, and responding to emergencies.

Following graduation from the academy, detectives should pursue advanced training and positions in the investigative branch to enhance their resumes. Several types of investigation are available, such as murder, cyber crimes, fraud, drug investigators, and missing people.

2. Fulfill Educational Requirements

  • Complete four years of high school. The process includes encouraging students to develop their ability to reason critically, logical reasoning, and inductive reasoning.
  • Study criminal justice, criminal psychology, social work, or a closely related field. Aspiring police detectives can enroll directly in law enforcement institutes. However, some police academy programs require the completion of some college coursework.
  • Obtain a police detective certification. The options for certification are numerous for investigators, whether they work for the police or private agencies.
  • In law enforcement, officers with several years of experience investigating are eligible to take the National Detective Exam, which assesses a police officer’s potential to work as an investigator or detective. An exam of 75 questions assesses candidates’ skills in investigating crimes, handling complex cases, and interviewing for investigative purposes.
  • You must obtain credentials locally. States have different requirements for becoming detectives. Because each state has its requirements for becoming a police officer, detective positions differ from state to state.
  • Prospective detectives may be required only to possess a high school diploma or general educational development. Still, others may need some college training or a college degree of two to four years.
  • Among the requirements for joining the detective bureau of the Los Angeles Police Department high school graduation is required, or GED, and the promotion to detective or sergeant is first offered upon completion of police training.
  • To be eligible for a position with the New York Police Department, candidates must possess at least 60 college credits or two years of military experience. Complete and pass your medical exam, including a drug screening and your physical exam.

3. Gain Work Experience

gain work experience How To Become A Detective
  • Students can get hands-on training in the field by volunteering for local law enforcement agencies, community organizations, or federal agencies to get real-world experience.
  • Criminal justice jobs require a clean record. Should you possess a felony conviction, your application may be rejected. A lie detector test may also be required, and you may be required to take several interviews, so be honest about your background. Ensure you understand your background will be thoroughly investigated by the police. There is a good chance that a police department will interview your family and friends, examine your academic records, and investigate your past employment and criminal history.

4. Apply For Advancements And Open Positions

You can apply for designated detective positions after completing your graduate degree and passing the suitability examination. You might be able to find employment within your organization or move to another organization, such as the local area command and territory crime command.

In the course of your career as a detective, it is possible to advance up the rank of detective. A senior detective receives a higher salary and is given a greater amount of responsibility.

5. Take Interview And Interrogation Classes

How To Become A Detective take interview and interrogation classes

A high-quality interviewing program is designed for law enforcement investigators. In Modified, the students learn techniques and skills that they will be able to use in various interviewing and questioning scenarios they will encounter daily.

Students will learn how interviewing and interrogating individuals is to gather information using different methods, strategies, and theories. In addition to learning to recognize deception through verbal body language observations of others, the student will become more proficient in effective verbal and non-verbal communication.

Learning critical thinking is important too. You will sit through theories related to interviewing and interrogation, as well as different techniques for dealing with situations that may arise in interviews. As a result, students will be better prepared for their real-life situations.

Education And Training Requirements

  1. Police officers/agents who conduct criminal investigations must possess the authority to arrest when preventing, discovering, apprehending, detaining, and investigating felony criminals who are engaged in criminal activity.
  2. Individuals must be employed by a federal, local, state, local, or international organization performing functions in conjunction with law enforcement.
  3. You must have at least two years of experience investigating criminals or civil cases or have experience in performing duties in connection with law enforcement or the Department of Homeland Security.

Job Description And Duties

job description and duties How To Become A Detective

While police are responsible for investigating and preventing crimes, a detective’s role is to respond to crimes and determine how they occur. While investigating cases, detectives are involved in a wide range of elements of the police position, working with others on an interpersonal level, both with suspects and victims, as well as in collaboration with other police branches and law enforcement officers.

In addition, crime scene processing needs to be carried out, and evidence from crime scenes needs to be analyzed. Therefore, crime scene investigations need proper detective examinations of those who are skilled and knowledgeable to do so.

1. Crime Scene Analysis

Evidence is typically sent to investigate a crime after uniformed police have secured the crime scene.

With the help of investigative skills, investigators gather evidence from the crime scene to determine what caused the crime and who committed it. As a result, they can determine what led to the crime, allowing them to pursue the case in the right direction.

2. Examining Witnesses’ Testimony

How To Become A Detective examining witness' testimony

Detectives are responsible for interviewing witnesses for the crime they are investigating as part of their role. Eyewitness testimony is one of the most vital pieces of evidence detectives have at their disposal to identify suspects, and it can often determine a case’s outcome.

Anyone present at the time and place of the crime may be interviewed by a detective, including a neighbor, an employee, or a bystander, without any connection to the crime. Witnesses provide them with statements that they use to build their file on the crime, allowing them to approach suspects when they are ready.

3. Suspects Are Interrogated

Once enough evidence has been gathered. Then, a detective can approach and question people suspected of involvement in a crime. Various techniques are used to compel a suspect to confess, for instance, repeating the question several times to draw attention to inconsistencies in their explanations.

Detectives can also stage a line-up, with anonymous people standing next to suspects hoping that witnesses can identify them. Interrogations are designed to force suspects to admit their guilt. They can take the matter to trial if the suspect denies they were involved; however, if the evidence gathered by the detective indicates that they were involved, the case can go to trial.

4. Monitoring

monitoring How To Become A Detective

When a detective investigates a suspect, they can often observe their activities through surveillance. Their goal may be to gather evidence to prove a suspect’s guilt. Therefore, detectives can perform a stakeout using a hidden position to observe the suspect, often for an extended period.

As well as conducting undercover operations, detectives may also be required to observe illegal activities. Therefore, there is no guarantee that undercover operations will end quickly.

5. Involvement In Other Departments

In addition to working independently, detectives also work in teams. Other units of the police force often contact them, which are the tactical and forensic units.

There is also the possibility of them working with members of the public outside of the police force. These include judges and legal counsel. When working with tactical units, the officer can assist with raids and be armed with lethal and non-lethal arms, such as handcuffs, a spray of pepper, and firearms.

As part of the investigation conducted by the forensic unit, investigators can gather evidence to establish that a suspect was present at the scene, including forensic evidence like hair samples and fingerprints, evidence that can prove guilt or innocence.

As well as working with the police force, detectives may also seek the assistance of independent organizations, for instance, judges, to obtain legal documents for searching potential criminals and surveilling them.

6. Preparation Of Court Evidence

How To Become A Detective preparation of court evidence

In a detective’s job, they are responsible for developing hypotheses based on a sequence of evidence explaining how a crime was committed. As they collect evidence, they keep detailed records and test their hypotheses based on these records.

If the crown prosecution service decides that there are sufficient grounds for prosecution, the suspect will be charged with the crime by the police. Any subsequent court case could require a detective to testify for the prosecution.

7. Victim Communication

Those who a crime has harmed may feel distressed. The detective is responsible for maintaining constant contact with all involved in the investigation and assisting them in prosecuting the suspect as needed.

As part of this process, it may be necessary to show empathy and communicate with them to make them feel safe and to inform the necessary people about the progress.

8. Remaining Operationally Ready

remaining operationally ready How To Become A Detective

As a detective, you must be physically fit and have a set of skills that are often rigorous. It is recommended that detectives undergo ongoing self-defense training to ensure they are capable of performing their duties effectively and know how to conduct police operations correctly.

Handcuffs and firearms, for example, must be regularly practiced. Maintenance is part of the process, and maintaining operational readiness may require training the members of the force who are new to the organization. You can do this by guiding and teaching junior detectives.

The Difference Between Private Detectives And Police Detectives

Even though private investigators sometimes collaborate with police, the nature of their work often differs. For example, investigations by police are exclusively focused on crimes, whereas private investigators may also investigate civil cases.

Detectives gather evidence either to find suspects or to build a case. Their work aims to solve crimes and provide government attorneys with evidence that will assist in prosecuting criminals.

A personal investigator performs similar tasks but mainly gathers information on behalf of their client. Private investigators also do not usually work in criminal cases. However, it is the police’s duty and privilege to fulfill certain duties.

In addition to enforcing the law, they also represent the state. In the event of a crime, the detective will be able to attend the crime scene, gather information, speak with witnesses, and gather evidence. Private investigators cannot do these things without permission from law enforcement.

A police investigator can also arrest suspects, write tickets, and intervene in criminal activity in any other way. But, on the other hand, a private investigator can only gather information.

How Much Do Police Detectives Make?

How To Become A Detective how much do police detectives make

The salary for detectives is $111,802 a year. However, detectives’ annual salaries vary based on where they live and their experience in law enforcement. In addition, detectives employed by state or territory crime commands are typically paid an average salary which is more than their counterparts at local area commands.

How Much Do Private Detectives Make?

Private investigators earn an average salary of $57,100 per year. There is a difference of approximately $6,000 in wages between all occupations. In the same way as with all professions, private investigator salaries are affected by state costs of living,

States with higher living costs typically have higher salaries. However, according to a cost of living interpretation, the top-paying conditions appear somewhat random when interpreting private investigator salaries.

Different Types Of Detectives

different types of detectives How To Become A Detective

1. Homicide Detective

Investigations into murders and the arrest of suspects are the primary duties of homicide detectives. A police investigator may assess a crime scene, interview a victim, speak to a witness, and conduct a walk-through of the scene.

The scene should be documented with photographs and videos, and evidence should be collected to assist the investigation. In addition to collaborating with other investigators, homicide detectives and criminal science investigators work together to exchange information, piece together a case, and determine who the suspect is.

2. Property Crimes Detective

There are many types of property crime, including private property, for example, burglary, arson, vandalism, shoplifting, and theft. In property crime, you commit a crime to get money, property, or to gain some other advantage. In some cases, this involves force, or threatened force, such as in robberies and extortions.

Property crimes are those committed to enrich the perpetrator. There are two types of crimes against property: the destruction of property and the theft of property. In the case of property destruction, you may refer to it as arson or vandalism. A robbery or embezzlement are examples of theft of property.

3. Auto Theft Detective

How To Become A Detective auto theft detective

Investigations into auto theft consist only of recording stolen vehicles and locating and recovering them. Nevertheless, detective units, usually found in police departments’ crimes against property divisions, should be well organized, productive, and well-coordinated to combat this criminal act and the financial damage it causes.

Data collection and analysis are the first steps in investigating auto theft. Documents must be maintained by these criminal investigators concerning auto thefts in the area, as it will assist them in better comprehending and recognizing crime patterns.

4. Robbery Detective

As soon as they arrive on the scene, robbery detectives begin investigating, determining who the witnesses are, and preserving evidence. Criminal investigations involving these types require plenty of organization and a detailed approach. Robbery detectives typically learn how to:

  • Perform investigative procedures at the scene of a robbery
  • Obtain testimony from witnesses
  • Determine how robberies are committed
  • Analyze types of robberies
  • Investigating a robbery: Understanding the stages
  • Identify witnesses on the ground and by eyewitnesses

5. Animal Crimes Detective

animal crimes detective How To Become A Detective

Various names are given to animal detectives, such as cruelty investigators and animal cops. Professionals in this field are educated and certified in their states, assist injured and neglected animals, ensure that animal cruelty laws are enforced (in many cases, they can arrest violators), and provide information about how to care for animals. But unfortunately, the detectives are also investigating dog fighting rings, which are on the rise, just like poaching.

6. Financial Crimes Detective

Investigations of fraudulent activity by fraud detectives are carried out for government organizations or private companies. Frauds could occur inside or outside an organization, and they could investigate them and gather data to assist in the investigation.

Fraud investigators often interview those involved, analyze transactions, and conduct surveillance to determine the steps taken to commit the crime. A criminal justice professional may collaborate with an attorney on court testimony and the presentation of findings.

7. Commercial Crimes Detective

How To Become A Detective commercial crimes detective

In addition to investigating property and financial crimes aggressively, the Commercial Crimes Division seeks to work collaboratively with other law enforcement organizations.

Private sector organizations can achieve this goal. For example, due to the dedication and hard work of the detectives at the commercial crimes division, crime will be reduced and lives saved in the communities these detectives serve.

8. Undercover Detective

An undercover detective conducts a covert investigation to collect evidence for a crime being investigated or confirmed. During the investigation, they assume a different identity to avoid being identified as police officers.

Using false identities, they engage in illegal activities with suspects, for example, purchasing illicit goods or services, without raising the suspicions of those committing the crime. Undercover detectives often use hidden cameras and recorders, which can take months or years to conduct their investigations.

9. Vehicular Crimes Detective

vehicular crimes detective How To Become A Detective

Among its duties, vehicle crimes unit detectives are responsible for investigating accidents that result in fatalities. These injuries could result in life-threatening conditions, hit-and-runs, and MCSO fleet vehicle collisions.

The laws governing impaired driving in Arizona are among the strictest in the nation. The punishment for DUI offenses is mandatory jail time. Offenses considered serious or repeatable, such as an aggravating DUI, will likely result in lengthy prison sentences, driving privilege suspensions, and additional penalties.

These penalties may include ignition interlock devices ordered by the court. The detective will need to investigate and prove their case before prosecution can occur.

10. Sex Crimes Detective

Sex crime detectives often investigate crimes involving sexual abuse. A sexual crimes detective assists in bringing these criminals to justice, ensuring that justice is served to the victims and their families.

A sex crime detective is tasked with investigating crimes ranging from molestation to rape and sexually oriented murder, ensuring accurate reporting.

In addition, it is your responsibility to evaluate a crime scene once a report has been made. For the job to be done well, it takes a strong stomach, an even more resilient heart, the ability to remain tactful when dealing with sensitive matters, and resilience.

11. Child Crimes Detective

How To Become A Detective child crimes detective

A proper, immediate response is essential in the investigation of these cases when investigating crimes against children, such as child abuse or neglect. Special units for victims are staffed by on-call investigators and lawyers with the child’s welfare as their primary concern.

To determine child abuse, a parent, guardian, or someone responsible for a child under 18 acts in a way that puts the child’s well-being at risk. It is possible to abuse a child in many ways, including:

  • A child is purposefully injured physically
  • A substantial risk of death or serious injury to the child as a result of physical injury
  • Abuse of children by sexual means
  • The child isn’t fed, clothed, housed, or given medicine

12. Domestic Violence Detective

The domestic abuse response team investigates and reports domestic abuse cases, violent crimes, predatory behavior, violations of protective orders, situations in which a former or current spouse or partner is the perpetrator, and abuse of the elderly.

DART Detectives investigate all crimes that fit the unit’s criteria. Often challenging and complicated cases are dealt with by DART Detectives with special domestic violence training issues. Until a DART unit member becomes available, the District Officers will conduct the initial investigation.

13. Missing Person Detective

missing person detective How To Become A Detective

Missing person reports are often made to law enforcement agencies; missing person detectives often take on the cases. Typically, they will talk to other officials, talk to family members and possible witnesses, find out what the missing individual has done, and alert local media to begin searching.

It may also be necessary for detectives investigating missing persons to gather information about the person’s location, for example, by monitoring the signal from the person’s phone or reaching out to local businesses to learn if anyone has seen or heard anything about the missing individual.

14. Gang Detective

Keeping an eye on violent street gang affiliations and activity is essential for police gang units within their jurisdiction. There is an insular nature to gangs, and they protect their members and information.

Non-criminal members of the community are often intimidated into keeping quiet about gang activities by gang members. Due to this, fieldwork is necessary to establish contact with gangs and the community and create a trust to curb crime associated with gangs.

Important Skills Needed to Work as a Detective

important skills needed to work as a detective How To Become A Detective

1. A Mind that Analyzes

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to cases. Therefore, an investigator should have a great understanding of analytics. Anytime an investigation is conducted, the detective must have a broader perspective and examine everything from every angle.

Especially when it comes to theft cases, this should be taken into consideration by professionals. If there is no evidence of the incident or a basic understanding of how it could have happened, detectives must look for little clues that the perpetrators miss. An investigator can only achieve this if they approach the case analytically.

2. A Keen Eye For Detail

How To Become A Detective a keen eye for detail

There might be more to it concerning cases or raising suspicions over incidents than meets the eye. Pay attention to the details. Reasonable investigations are based on this principle. Even the tiniest detail can significantly impact a case and open the door to a successful investigation and crime prevention.

3. Communication

Developing proper communication skills without raising suspicions is vital to taking a case to the next level. When communication breaks down, the case ends. Unfortunately, when it comes to investigation, only some are great communicators. Gathering all the minor details is not as easy as we think since the main goal is not to reveal the identity.

4. A Disciplined Approach

a disciplined approach How To Become A Detective

The importance of discipline cannot be overstated for any kind of work. The field, however, requires a greater amount of it. Maintaining good dignity, keeping deadlines, and being reliable all fall under discipline. If a company maintains good standards in all these areas, there is no doubt that its detective agency is excellent.

5. Ability To Interact With Others

It is impossible to take chances with all suspicions that arise, and they cannot all be true. If they develop suspicions about a target, the reasons for their skepticism should be clear, and their reasoning should be logical and concise. Instincts cannot be relied upon alone. Interpersonal skills are required, however.

6. Be Patient

How To Become A Detective be patient

The most important thing is to be patient. Some cases take a few days, others take months, and still, others take a few years. The weight of the case determines how serious the case is. Investigators, however, will benefit from being able to think clearly and courageously only if they can handle situations. Therefore, whenever they conduct a case, patience is crucial. However, putting it together in a hurry will not result in a successful case.

Also, detectives are responsible for explaining how the case is going, what is their track record, their current position, and how they plan to proceed. Clients should be informed of all of these regularly. In contrast, if you fail to provide the client with any clues, they will lose patience after a while.


There is a promotion structure for detectives within the police force. The police can advance up the ranks, including the ranks of detective constable, sergeant detective, detective chief inspector, chief detective superintendent, and many more.

Would you like to make a community impact by seeking justice? You might be a good candidate for a detective career path if you fall into this category. However, you may need a degree program, job training and substantial policing experience to begin this career. Hopefully, this article has helped you decide whether to pursue a job in the detective field.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Becoming A Detective Hard?

The path to becoming a detective is hard. You must mentally and physically train for it, which can sometimes be challenging. While the training and education may become frustrating, becoming a detective is worth it. The months of training pay off when you are labeled a detective.

How Long Does It Take To Become A Detective?

As a police detective, the path can vary depending on the state; however, once you have received a high school diploma or general education degree, the path can take five to eight years to become a detective. You can get started once you reach the age requirement of 18 years or older. You will start as a patrol officer then you can work out your employment growth and hiring process so you can find a job.

Do Detectives Carry Guns?

There is a difference in the answer depending on the country. For example, guns are rarely carried by British detectives.

As sworn law enforcement community members, homicide detectives play a vital role in solving homicides. Therefore, the general carrying of firearms by sworn personnel is mandatory.

Do Detectives Travel a Lot?

In addition, federal agencies such as the FBI may require detectives and criminal investigators to travel frequently, even at short notice, and often move during their careers. Sedentary lifestyles are not recommended for this job. Traveling to different jurisdictions may be necessary for detectives to work together.

How Can I Find A Job As A Detective?

If you work for a police department, you can become a detective. However, if you are interested in lateral transfer as a detective, inquire about the lateral transfer requirements of other departments. Officers with recent work experience are more likely to be accepted for transfers by most police departments.

Changing jobs within your state may prove easier, owing to your state’s certification requirements. However, transferring to another state’s police department, it is likely that you will need additional training and certification from that state.