Become a Police Detective: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a police detective. Research the education and career requirements, training and experience required for starting a career as a police detective. View article »

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  • 0:42 Career Requirements
  • 1:05 Becoming a Police Detective

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Video Transcript

Should I Become a Police Detective?

Police detectives collect evidence, gather facts, and conduct interviews about possible criminal activities with the ultimate goal of arresting the perpetrators. Detectives also must file reports and, in some cases, testify in court.

The majority of police detectives work on a full-time basis, and paid overtime is common. Detectives work in shifts 24 hours a day, and younger members of the team will likely work more night shifts in the beginning. The job of police detective comes with higher-than-average risk of personal injury or death. Detectives must be comfortable with guns and are almost always armed while on duty.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Associate's degree recommended
Degree Name Criminal justice
Experience Detectives need to gain experience working as a police officer
Key Skills Communication, good judgment, leadership skills, organizational skills, and physical fitness
Salary (2015) $77,210 per year (Median salary for police detectives)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,, Occupational Employment and Wages.

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Becoming a Police Detective

Step 1: Earn an Associate's Degree

While not required by all police departments, earning an associate's degree in criminal justice can provide students with the basic knowledge and skills to work in law enforcement. Students will have an opportunity to complete courses in criminal investigations, criminal procedures, police services, juvenile justice, and law enforcement training. Opportunities may also be available to participate in an internship with local law enforcement agencies.

Success Tip

  • Look for programs that will specifically train you for law enforcement. While criminal justice programs cover a wide variety of topics, some programs include a law enforcement academy that will prepare you for a career as a police officer. For example, community colleges in the state of Wisconsin feature programs that will qualify you to become a certified law enforcement officer upon graduation.

Step 2: Enroll in Police Academy Training

Police academy training is required for individuals who want to become police officers. Recruits are required to participate in various classes related to law enforcement and pass several physical examinations. Courses cover areas involving state and local laws, police ethics, community policing, and civil rights. Recruits also participate in field training and learn about traffic control, self-defense, firearms, and crash investigation. Police academy training also requires that recruits pass several physical exams involving running, push-ups, and sit-ups.

Success Tip

  • Begin training before enrolling in the academy. Because you must pass certain physical and fitness requirements, it's important that you begin training before enrollment. Developing a physical fitness routine that involves cardiovascular exercising and strength training may be beneficial.

Step 3: Work as a Police Officer

Before earning a promotion to a detective, individuals will need to work as a police officer for several years. Police officers are responsible for enforcing laws and responding to emergencies. The experience required to become a police detective varies by state or department.

Success Tip

  • Request to work in an investigative unit. As a police officer working in the investigative unit, you will have an opportunity to work closely with detectives and help to solve crimes. You can experience working crime scenes and collecting evidence.

Step 4: Taking the Detective Exam to Advance

Some states or departments require that prospective detectives take and pass a comprehensive exam. This exam usually covers areas involving conflict management, decision-making, criminal law and procedures, forensic science, investigative techniques, and state laws.

Police detectives must first earn an associate's degree in criminal justice, then enroll in the police academy and serve as a police officer before taking the detective exam.

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