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How to Become a Detective: Career Roadmap and Education

Majors Overview January 10, 2013

Law enforcement agencies typically rely on the professional service of detectives, sometimes called investigators. Such services include collection of evidence and analysis of facts in a criminal case, whenever a detective is summoned to assist in specific situations. During the course of their duties, a detective usually has to interview suspects and witnesses, examine records relating to a case, observe potential suspects and take part in arrests. Many prospective detectives complete college degree programs and rely on prior work experience as police officers.

Though a college degree is not mandatory, many detectives usually possess one in law enforcement or criminal justice. Starting out as police officers, majority of detectives get promoted when they have garnered sufficient experience over the years. They are expected to be exceptionally insightful; detectives are also required to have multitasking, communication and leadership skills. Among the computer skills these professionals are expected to bring to bear on the performance of their work, they are required to have experience working with computer-aided composite drawing software, crime information database, fingerprint database, and crime scene management. They need to be able to use Microsoft Excel and Word. Among technical skills, the ability to use fingerprinting and surveillance equipment, polygraphs and handcuffs is expected of these professionals. Additionally, detectives are required to have stamina in performing work that can be physically demanding and stressful (sources: O Net OnLine, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Stage One: Earning a College Degree

As previously stated, most detectives start out as police officers. Usually, a detective does not need any educational qualification higher than a high school diploma or GED. However, some agencies insist on a college degree in a related field such as law enforcement or criminal justice. Prospective detectives can aim to complete either an associate or a bachelor degree program. The area of specialization could be any criminal procedure, forensic science, judicial function, human relations, criminology and criminal law. In order to provide students with real-world insight about the profession, some schools include internship programs. A foreign language course will be helpful, especially when they are employed in urban settings, and give aspiring detectives an improvement in their careers (source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) (

Stage Two: Completing a Police Training Academy Program

To receive training as a police officer, a candidate has to be twenty-one years of age, and a citizen of the United States, and may be required to pass polygraph and drug tests. Before they are recruited as officers, candidates have to complete police academy programs apart from passing physical and written tests. These programs are offered by both federal and state agencies and include a combination of classroom lectures and physical training. In the classroom, candidates are taught about first aid, traffic control, self-defense, and firearm training, among other subject areas. They are required to have a clear understanding of local and state law.

Stage Three: Building Work Experience

Detectives generally are selected from existing police officers. Police officers who aspire to be detectives should communicate their interest to their superior officers to ensure that they will keep the prospective detectives in mind at the time of promotions. Police officers are required by many agencies to have at least three years of on the job experience before they can be considered for a detective position. Promotions are usually based on seniority combined with performance evaluations and scores on agency examinations. Excellent physical and mental health through fitness training and regular exercise will prove to be beneficial because it helps with handling stress and danger. Detectives should also keep themselves updated on new technology and techniques, as for instance, knowledge of computer forensics, which is relevant in the backdrop of increasing incidence of cybercrime. Having keen observation, and strong reasoning and investigating skills will go a long way towards enhancing their effectiveness on the job.

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