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Become a Homicide Detective: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Research the requirements to become a homicide detective. Learn about the job description and duties, and read the step-by-step process to start a career in homicide investigation.

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Do I Want to Be a Homicide Detective?

Homicide detectives investigate and solve murder cases. They interview witnesses, compile evidence, interrogate suspects, and follow leads. Their goal is to arrest and convict killers. Most homicide detectives work for police at the local level, although some work for state or federal government.

The job of a homicide detective, as with other roles in law enforcement, comes with the risk of personal injury or death. Confrontation is common. Homicide detectives must be comfortable and skilled with guns. They often deal with crime scenes, which can be brutal to witness. Much of a homicide detective's time is spent investigating in the field, although some time is spent in an office setting to write reports. There can be great reward in being able to help people as a member of a police force.

Job Requirements

Becoming a homicide detective can be a lengthy process; it's not an entry-level position. These professionals typically begin their careers as police officers and are promoted after gaining experience and meeting departmental requirements. The following table outlines common requirements for homicide detectives, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):

Common Requirements
Degree Level A degree is not always required, but candidates with some college education may have more career opportunities.
Degree Field Criminal justice or law enforcement
Experience Varies by department, but most detectives have previous experience as police officers
Key Skills Ability to multi-task, leadership skills, empathy, communication skills, perceptiveness
Additional Requirements Must pass a criminal background check and drug test; must typically be age 21 or older and in good physical health.

Step 1: Meet Department Standards

In order to qualify for work as a police officer, candidates must hold at least a high school diploma or the equivalent. Some employers prefer or require aspiring homicide detectives to have completed some college coursework or possess a degree.

Would-be detectives may pursue an associate's or bachelor's degree in criminal justice or law enforcement. These programs cover the fundamentals of the field and prepare students for academy training and police work. Common courses include criminal law, legal procedures, evidence, forensics, court systems, law enforcement procedures and investigative techniques.

Success Tip:

  • Take foreign language courses. According to the BLS, candidates who can speak a foreign language may have an advantage in this line of work. Homicide detectives may work with witnesses, suspects and families who don't speak English. Having the ability to communicate in their preferred language can expedite the investigation process.

Step 2: Become a Police Officer

Prospective homicide detectives apply to the police department of their choice. While application requirements vary, candidates usually must be 21 years of age or older; additional requirements can include a high school diploma, a state driver's license, U.S. citizenship and a clean criminal record. Qualified candidates then complete training at their employer's approved academy to become law enforcement officers. These professionals are responsible for apprehending and arresting criminal suspects, writing traffic tickets and preparing incident reports.

Step 3: Get Promoted to Detective

After gaining a certain amount of experience, a police officer can apply for promotion to homicide detective. Additionally, some departments require applicants to pass an examination for promotion, while others consider seniority within the department when making hiring decisions. Job performance is usually taken into account as well.

Step 4: Continue Education

Police officers and detectives must participate in ongoing training. This training may include firearms re-certification or courses in law enforcement skills and procedures. Many law enforcement agencies, professional associations and third-party vendors offer continuing education classes, seminars and training workshops.

Step 5: Advance in Rank

Some departments have different ranks for homicide detectives. More highly ranked detectives may be responsible for overseeing lower-ranked detectives and regular police officers. Through experience and continuing education, a homicide detective may be able to advance in rank within his or her department.

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Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics