Careers in Crime Investigation: Options and Requirements

Sep 25, 2019

There are many career options for those interested in working in crime investigation. Police officers and detectives conduct investigations and apprehend suspects, while FBI agents investigate federal crimes. Forensic science technicians analyze and test evidence collected at crime scenes to help investigators reconstruct crime scenes and identify the perpetrators of the crime.

Essential Information

Crime investigation encompasses many careers at the state, federal and local levels. Individuals in these careers work in stressful environments because of demanding schedules and interaction with dangerous criminals. The education requirements for crime investigation careers vary, but all jobs require specialized training and experience.

Career Titles Police Officers and Detectives Forensic Science Technicians FBI Special Agents
Education Requirements High school diploma or GED Bachelor's degree Bachelor's degree
Other Requirements Law enforcement training;
Applicants must be 21 years old
None 3 years work experience;
Applicants must be 23-37 years old
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028) 5% for police and detectives*; 3% for detectives and criminal investigators* 14% for forensic science technicians* Not reported
Median Salary $63,380 for police and detectives*; $81,920 for detectives and criminal investigators* $58,230 for forensic science technicians* $64,477 for FBI agents**

*Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2018); ** (2019)

Career Options

There are several career options in the crime investigation field. Police officers and detectives monitor the activity in certain locations, while FBI special agents investigate federal crimes. In the lab, forensic science technicians examine and decipher crime scenes. Each field has specific entry-level education requirements, and police and FBI special agents have requisite age restrictions.

Police Officers and Detectives

Police officers are the lowest-ranking members in a police department. Typical duties of officers include investigating suspicious activities in their assigned patrol area and responding to complaints from members of the community. Police officers may also help investigations by interviewing witnesses to a crime and gathering evidence. Detectives are police officers who have been promoted and assigned to a unit that investigates a specific type of crime. According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2018, police and detectives earned an annual median salary of $63,380, while detectives and criminal investigators earned $81,920. The BLS predicts 5% employment growth for police and sheriff's patrol officers from 2018 through 2028, and it projects a 3% growth for detectives and criminal investigators during that same time.


The education requirements for police officers vary among departments, but a high school diploma is the standard minimum. Police officer applicants usually must be 21 years old and pass physical and physiological screenings, written exams and a background check. Officers and detectives attend a police academy where they receive law enforcement training in areas including law, firearms, self-defense and report writing. Newly promoted detectives usually complete further training in general investigative techniques, such as interrogation procedures and fingerprint identification. Detectives also receive specialized training related to their field of investigation.

Forensic Science Technicians

Forensic science technicians, also called criminalists, work in laboratories at police departments and state or federal agencies. Technicians analyze and identify physical evidence collected at crime scenes. They also conduct tests and examine evidence to reconstruct crime scenes, establish links between victims and perpetrators, helping to find suspects. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects a 14% job increase for these professionals from 2018-2028. Forensic science technicians made a median annual salary of $58,230 during 2018, according to the BLS.


Forensic science technicians need a bachelor's degree in a program such as forensic science, criminalistics, chemistry, biology or physics. Earning a minor in administration of justice or criminal justice is beneficial because these programs offer courses in investigation procedures and laws concerning evidence. Students can gain experience needed for a forensic science technician career by completing internships at private labs, police crime labs, district attorney's offices and medical examiner's offices. Interns typically act as lab assistants and have duties that include cleaning equipment, preparing crime scene kits and conducting research.

FBI Special Agents

FBI special agents act as the primary investigators within the U.S. government because they investigate more than 200 types of federal crimes, including terrorism, fraud, human trafficking and organized crime, reported the FBI. FBI agents gather intelligence on criminals and possible security threats by researching records, going undercover and conducting surveillance. According to, FBI agents earn a median salary of $64,477 a year, based on 354 individuals reporting, in 2019.


Individuals 23-37 years old who have a 4-year degree and three years of related work experience can apply to the FBI. Eligible applicants must also pass a drug test, written exam, physical exam, fitness ability test and background investigation. Accepted applicants take part in a 5-month training program in Quantico, VA. The training program includes instruction in firearms, surveillance, forensics, law, interrogation, interviewing, defensive driving and disarming subjects.

Although it may be possible to begin a career as a police officer with a high school diploma or GED, most careers in crime investigation require a bachelor's degree. Those who plan to work as a police officer, detective, or FBI agent will also need to pass physical fitness tests and attend a police academy or the FBI training program.

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