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Federal Criminal Investigator: Job Description, Duties and Salary

Aug 22, 2019

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a federal criminal investigator. Get a quick view of the requirements, and find out about federal investigator jobs as well as the salary and duties of an investigator.

What Is a Federal Criminal Investigator?

Federal criminal investigators are agents who gather evidence, investigate crimes, interview witnesses and apprehend suspects. They work on cases that fall under federal jurisdiction, such as drug trafficking, organized crime, or human smuggling. Federal investigators are employed by a variety of agencies. The nature of their work depends on the agency they work for, and their salary is dependent upon their experience and education. Most federal agencies require a bachelor's degree, work experience or a combination of the two. Federal agents undergo intensive training at one of several federal facilities.

Required Education Bachelor's degree often required
Other Requirements Complete training program at a Federal Law Enforcement Training Center; meet age and physical fitness requirements
Projected Job Growth (2016-2026)* 7% (all police and detectives)
Mean Annual Salary (2018)* $108,770 (for police and detectives employed by the federal government)

Source: * U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Criminal Investigator Job Description

A federal criminal investigator, sometimes called a special agent, investigates potential crimes against the public and the U.S. government. More than 50 federal agencies employ investigators, including the Department of Energy, U.S. Secret Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Amtrak and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Federal investigators work in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Most agencies require that those applying for federal investigator jobs be younger than 37, have a degree in a field related to the agency's focus and pass a background check. Some agencies, such as the National Park Service, require candidates to have prior experience working within that agency.

Qualified candidates are specially trained at a Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. There are several facilities, located in Georgia, New Mexico, South Carolina and Maryland. The basic training program for entry-level investigators lasts approximately two months and includes instruction in criminal case development, interviews, writing case reports, serving warrants, case management, handling evidence and surveillance. Physical fitness, firearm and vehicle operation training are also included.

Job Duties of an Investigator

In general, federal criminal investigators investigate potential cases, gather evidence related to criminal activity, interview witnesses, arrest people accused of crimes, and testify in court if necessary. The specific tasks investigators perform depend on the agency they work for; for example, individuals working for the Secret Service investigate financial crimes, while those employed by the Internal Revenue Service investigate tax fraud. Investigators working for the FBI investigate drug trafficking, human rights violations and organized crime.

Federal Investigator Salary

Investigators receive a base amount of pay established by the federal government. The amount depends on the agency they work for, level of experience and location. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in May 2018, the federal government employed about 38,940 criminal investigators and detectives. Their average annual salary was approximately $108,770.

Federal criminal investigators are employed by a number of different federal agencies, and are required to have a degree and pass a background check. They attend training at a Federal Law Enforcement Training Center before entering the field. Their job duties include gathering information on potential crimes against the public and the government, though specific duties and cases vary depending on the particular agency.

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