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How to Become a Detective

Becoming a detective is often considered a difficult career to achieve, but that is a common misconception. If you are interested in learning how to become a detective, read on to discover just how simple the process actually is.

What Is a Detective?

A detective typically works for a police department, often in homicide. They are called upon to investigate and solve crimes. While regular police officers are tasked with closing off and managing crime scenes, detectives go to gather evidence and dive into the crime.

Some detectives decide not to work for police departments and instead run their own businesses as private detectives. This path is a bit different than learning how to become a homicide detective, as private investigators can either earn a degree or gain experience from a police department.

What Does a Detective Do?

Finds and Researches Evidence

Detectives visit crime scenes and review reports and photos to help collect evidence. Once all evidence has been found and cataloged from a crime scene, detectives spend a lot of time studying and researching the evidence to determine more about the nature of the crime committed.

Responds to Emergency Calls 24/7

It is not a guaranteed part of the job, but crimes can happen at any hour of the day, so detectives are often seen responding to emergency calls on their time off. This generally happens when a serious crime is committed and their help is needed immediately.

Examines Crime Scenes

Examining crime scenes is a large part of being a detective and includes more than simply gathering evidence. Detectives can determine a lot about how and why a crime has been committed from the crime scene.

Essential Detective Skills

Ethical Behavior

Anyone working as a part of the criminal justice system needs to behave ethically. It is not uncommon to hear of ethical issues in how a crime was solved. Detectives must abide by all ethical standards to ensure proper justice is delivered.

Understanding of Human Psychology

Since detectives are tasked with solving crimes, they have to determine the ‘who’ and ‘why.’ This often involves taking a look at the psyche of the perpetrator of the crime, so having some understanding of human psychology is extremely important.


Solving crimes can take a long time. This can be especially frustrating for those solving the crime, so having patience is key. If detectives are not patient and give up or become unhinged, the crime may never be solved.

Detective Salaries and Job Outlook

Detectives are paid decently for their work, earning an average of $65,170 per year. For some, depending upon their location, experience, and education, this can range from $37,710 per year all the way to $109,620 per year.

The job outlook for detectives is good, with the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting employment to rise five percent by 2029. This is a bit faster than the average occupational growth, which means plenty of employment opportunities await you.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Detective?

Becoming a detective the common way takes between five and six years. Detectives do not necessarily have to attend school, so the time it takes is primarily in the experience they must gain. 

Most detectives must have five or more years of experience as a police officer to get the job, though a year of experience can be deducted if you have a college degree.

How to Become a Detective: A Step by Step Guide

Step 1: Earn a Degree

Earning a degree is not required to become a detective, but it can benefit you in many ways. Detectives can knock off a year of required experience time if they have a degree. Having a degree will also automatically make you more employable, helping you reach your goals sooner and easier.

Earning a degree can also be useful in helping you learn ideas and concepts that you may not have picked up from experience alone. While on-the-job training is important, having some knowledge of the job prior to getting it helps.

Step 2: Complete Police Academy Training

To become a detective you must first become a police officer, and to do that you must complete police academy training. These typically take a few months to complete and consist of classes centered on state and local laws. Classes also cover constitutional rights, civil rights, and police ethics.

Police academy training is designed to teach candidates about everything it takes to be a police officer. Due to this, you are expected to learn and be proficient in all aspects of the job, including patrol, traffic control, firearm use, self-defense, and first aid. 

Since there is so much to be covered in a short period of time, having earned a degree can work to your advantage as you will have additional knowledge of the subjects.

Step 3: Earn Work Experience

After completing a degree and academy training, you will need to work as a police officer in order to advance to a detective position. All detectives are required to have at least five years of work experience under their belts unless they have completed a college degree, in which case only four years are required.

Gaining work experience is not only required, but it is also beneficial to your work. Having a keen understanding of the workings of the law and criminal behavior is extremely important to solving crimes, and though classes can teach you a lot, there is no better teacher than hands-on education.

Should You Become a Detective in 2020?

If becoming a detective is your goal, 2020 is the year to do it. With the nation reporting a good average salary and expected job growth in the next decade, you will be making a wise career decision by becoming a detective in 2020.


How to become a private detective?
You can become a private detective by following these steps and then branching off on your own, or by earning a higher degree and then working for someone else or your own business.
Can you become a detective without a degree?
Yes, you can become a detective without a degree.
What is the difference between a detective and a criminal investigator?
Detectives are most often seen investigating homicide and missing persons cases while criminal investigators focus on cases like fraud and terrorism.
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