Police Detective: Occupational Summary and Educational Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a police detective. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties and additional requirements to find out if this is the career for you.

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If you are thinking about a career as a police detective, you should possess strong observation, interviewing, interpersonal and research skills. A high school diploma is required, and a college degree may be beneficial, but all detectives must complete police academy training, and experience on a police force is usually required.

Essential Information

Police detectives, sometimes known as special agents, are local or state law enforcement officers who investigate and solve crimes. A high school diploma is the minimum education required for this job, though completing a degree program in criminal justice or a related field may have some career benefits. Aspiring police detectives typically start out as police officers, and they must complete police academy training and gain work experience on the force before advancing to a detective position. Some physical and age requirements also apply to police officers and detectives.

Required Education High school diploma at minimum; relevant degree programs are available
Other Requirements Completion of police academy training; work experience; minimum age of 21; successful completion of physical exams and vision tests
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 4% for all police and detectives
Median Salary (2015)* $77,210 for all detectives and criminal investigators

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Occupational Summary for Police Detectives

Unlike uniformed police officers who are assigned geographic areas to patrol for suspicious activities, police detectives work in plainclothes, using observation, interviews and research skills to solve crimes. They may be assigned to investigations of certain types of crimes like homicides or thefts.

As part of their duties, police detectives may collect evidence from crime scenes and secure the areas from tampering. Because their success at gathering information may depend on being trusted by witnesses or sources close to potential suspects, they need to be able to think quickly and have excellent interpersonal skills. Once sufficient evidence is collected, police detectives may make arrests and prepare information for court cases. They maintain files on ongoing investigations and often serve as witnesses in court.

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Educational Requirements for Police Detectives

Although certain police departments may prefer candidates who have some college education, most police detectives are only required to have high school diplomas or the equivalent. While in high school, aspiring police detectives can join sports teams or otherwise focus on developing the physical stamina needed for their future careers. Additionally, learning a foreign language may be beneficial for working in certain departments.

For candidates who decide to attend college, choosing majors or courses in criminal justice, administration of justice or psychology may be useful. Police detectives who have some college education may have the benefit of increased salaries. After graduation, future detectives must attend police academy training, which can last for several months. Trainees may receive classroom instruction in federal and state laws, arrest procedures and report writing. They also receive hands-on instruction in such subjects as first aid, firearms use and emergency driving.

Additional Requirements for Police Detectives

Most jurisdictions require that police detectives be U.S. citizens and over the age of 21. There are also physical tests that candidates must pass before being hired, including strength, agility and vision exams. While postsecondary education may not always be a requirement, most police departments do ask that candidates have previous law enforcement experience as police officers. Furthermore, police detectives may be required to participate in additional training annually, covering topics which may include firearms, communication skills, self-defense and legal developments.

Career Outlook for Police Detectives

There were about 806,400 detectives and criminal investigators employed nationally as of 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number of positions for police and detectives was expected to increase by just 4% from 2014-2024, which is slower than average. Detectives and criminal investigators made a median yearly salary of $77,210 in May 2015.

Police detectives gather evidence, investigate and solve crimes, make arrests, and serve as witnesses in court. A high school diploma or bachelor's degree is required, and detectives must complete police academy training, meet physical and age requirements, and have prior experience on a police force. Demand for police and detectives is predicted to be slow, with the number of jobs expected to increase only 4% between 2014 and 2024.

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