Detective tends to enjoy a great deal of professional independence, which is precisely what draws many investigators to the field. These professionals often choose when they work, how many clients they serve and the types of cases they accept. Before they achieve this degree of flexibility, however, private investigators must meet all training and licensing regulations governing their work. These requirements are state-specific, so not all detectives pursue the same certificates, degrees, and professional licenses.
Prospective PIs’ academic choices frame the legality of their work and future career opportunities and earnings, so it is important that they research their options and choose wisely. The following guide outlines the steps to becoming a private detective, what the future might hold for them, and how these factors interrelate.
How To Become a Detective?
A detective sometimes referred to as an investigator normally works with a law enforcement agency. Called in for specific situations, a detective collects evidence and analyzes the facts in a criminal case. Duties of a detective generally include interviewing witnesses and suspects, examining records involved with a case, observing potential suspects, and taking part in arrests.
Detectives and investigators work on a full-time basis with the likelihood of paid overtime. Shifts during the weekends and the night are common for those without seniority on a police force. There can be a great personal reward in serving the public’s needs for protection and justice. The career carries a higher-than-average risk of confrontation with criminals, personal injury, and even death.
Degree Level High school diploma (required); bachelor’s degree (may be required)
Degree Field Criminal justice or law enforcement
Experience Several years (varies by employer)
Key Skills Keen perception, leadership skills, communication, multitasking, physical stamina, basic computer skill and experience with software for crime scene management, crime information databases and computer-aided composite drawing; comfortable with handcuffs, polygraphs and fingerprinting and surveillance equipment.
Median Salary (2018) $81,920 (for detectives and criminal investigators, 2018)
How To Become a Homicide Detective
A homicide detective’s job is to investigate deaths suspected to have been caused by criminal activities, as well as deaths with an unknown cause, in order to rule out criminal activity. Homicide detectives have sworn law enforcement officers. Homicide detectives, who are generally promoted from their initial position as a police officer or another position in law enforcement, often work for local, state, or federal law enforcement agencies.
Steps for Becoming a Homicide Detective
The minimum requirements to become a homicide detective are a high school diploma (or a bachelor’s degree for federal jobs) and experience as a sworn law enforcement officer. More and more agencies are requiring prospective homicide detectives to have at least a two-year degree in criminal justice, forensic science, or a related field, plus prior experience as a sworn law enforcement officer. To become a homicide detective, you can expect a process similar to the one described below.
- Acquire the necessary education and/or gain experience in a related field.*
- Apply for a homicide detective job opening.
- Be interviewed.
- Undergo a background investigation and be fingerprinted.
- Get hired as a homicide detective.
- Receive training on the job once hired.
How To Become a Private Detective
Private investigators, also known as private detectives, are often hired to locate missing people, to obtain confidential or deliberately hidden information, and to participate in solving crimes. Private investigators work for law enforcement agencies, private investigation agencies, or are self-employed and work directly for private clients.
Steps for Becoming a Private Investigator
While in most jurisdictions, there is no formal education requirement to become a private investigator, a degree in criminal justice may be beneficial. In fact, O*NET OnLine reports that most private investigators need a bachelor’s degree to be hired, though many jobs only require a high school diploma or equivalent. Former law enforcement officers sometimes take the experience they’ve gained in law enforcement and parlay it into a new career as a PI. Other aspiring PIs enter the profession after earning a college degree. Most states require private investigators to obtain a license to practice and some cities or counties also have mandatory licensing or other requirements for PIs. Aspiring private detectives must be at least 18 years old (21 in select jurisdictions) and generally must have no criminal record. To become a private investigator, you can expect steps similar to these:
- Attend a degree program and/or gain experience in a related field.*
- Obtain a license from the state in which you plan to work.
- Obtain a concealed weapons license**.
- Interview with a private investigation agency.
- Be fingerprinted and submit to a background check.
- Get hired as a private investigator.
- Receive training on the job once hired.
How Long Does It Take To Become a Detective
To advance in any career you need to have more education, experience, and qualifications than what people at the same level have. To do this, it takes a lot of time and hard work. A detective is usually a police officer who has been promoted to that post because of their exemplary skills in solving crimes.
But to get to that stage, they need to have already gone through the academy, completed the education requirements and then gotten promoted after gaining sufficient experience. A private detective is usually a detective who has resigned from the police force to work freelance or with an institution. Thus, it takes even longer for them. See how much time it takes for a person to become a detective.
Education (2 to 4 years)
To become a public detective, you need to first become a police officer. This requires you to graduate out of high school and join the academy. However, police departments are more likely to promote or hire someone with a degree than someone who doesn’t have one. Thus, you should work on getting an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree in criminology or some related field. The former takes about 2 years while the latter takes somewhere around 4 years. They prepare you with the skills and knowledge that a good policeman/investigator should have.
Get hired as an officer (2 years)
The next step after this is to get hired as a police officer. To do this, you need to apply first which might take around 3 months to process before the hiring process begins. The hiring process can last for about 4 months which consists of written, oral, physical, mental, psychological, and even medical tests. You need to pass all of them including a background and polygraph test to get hired into the academy after an interview with the chief.
The academy then lasts for about 6 months as it trains you physically and mentally for the stresses of the job. You are taught how to use a gun, self-defense, how to negotiate with criminals and many other skills that you will require on the job. After you graduate from the academy you are placed on a probation period of about a year with a supervising officer as you patrol the city and receive some “on the job” training. If the supervisor is satisfied with your performance, then you get to become a professional police officer.
Gaining experience as an officer (2-5 years)
Experience is the greatest teacher of them all for an aspiring detective. Thus, as a patrol officer, you should use your time properly observing each case the best you can. This will help you recognize patterns of different crimes and helping you develop the kind of thinking that is required to be a detective. Most police departments do not promote anyone before they have served at least 2 years. Other departments may require a minimum of 5 years of service before they promote anyone to the post of a detective.
Gain experience as a detective (1-3 years)
An aspiring private detective needs to already have some amount of experience in investigations to get into any agency or to get hired by any client. This experience needs not come from being a criminal investigator but they can choose alternate investigative careers as well. It can be to investigate financial frauds or research for the public defender’s office. Either way, this builds your credibility enough to become a private detective after retiring from the job of a public one.