Detective Careers – Investigator Careers – Detective Job Info

Detective careers and Investigator careers are in high demand and will continue to be for years to come. There is a big variety of investigator jobs in the law enforcement career field, thus creating an increased need for qualified detectives.

Detectives, also known as investigators, are plainclothes law enforcement officers who gather facts and collect evidence for criminal cases. For the most part, detectives are looking to solve specific types of crime, like: robberies, car thefts, fraud and homicides. However, some detectives are assigned to inter-agency task forces to combat crime. They conduct interviews, examine records, observe the activities of suspects, and participate in raids or arrests.

Detectives are assigned cases on a rotating basis and work on them until an arrest and conviction is made or until the case is dropped. Investigators in State and Federal levels usually specialize in investigating one type of violation, such as homicide or fraud.

Most common reference to a detective is one on a local level and is associated with a sworn-in police officer who passed the detective exam, thus receiving a promotion. Detectives, or investigators, on a state and federal level are usually known as agents or special agents.

Detective Salary 2019

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual earnings of detectives and criminal investigators are $81,490 1. The middle 50 percent earned between $55,180 and $103,330. The lowest 10 percent earned $42,220, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $131,200. Median annual earnings were $103,620 in Federal Government, $62,050 in State government, and $69,370 in local government 2.

Many municipal police departments and county / state / federal agencies offer salary, benefit, and hiring information right on their website.

Detective Requirements

Most detectives and investigators must be U.S. citizens (born or naturalized). They usually start as police officers and wait until they are eligible to take the detective exam. After successful completion they may receive the promotion. Police officers usually become eligible for promotion after a probationary period ranging from 6 months to 3 years. However, certain departments, and most state / federal agencies, do require additional “fire power” – see Education and Training below for more info.

Education and Training

Nearly all detectives must successfully complete the educational and training requirements of a police officer first. Some police departments, and nearly all State and Federal investigation agencies, require significant academic and on-the-job experience. If one doesn’t have on-the-job experience on a State or Federal level an education equivalent is accepted – usually a minimum of a Bachelor degree.

Certain police departments may grant one a promotion based on one’s performance on the job. This is usually prevalent in smaller departments, but recently even the smallest law enforcement agencies started to add an educational requirement – some college credits, Associates degree, or a Bachelor degree – which must be completed at the time of promotion or within a predefined time frame (ex. 4 years from time of promotion). Take advantage of the fact that many agencies pay all or part of the tuition for officers to work toward degrees in criminal justice, police science, administration of justice, public administration, criminology, and others.

Depending on where one works, additional training may be required with the position of Detective or Criminal Investigator. Majority of new investigators gain the most training through performing the actual work and by collaborating with seasoned detectives.

Career Opportunities

Detectives and Investigators have many career opportunities that can be obtained through tenure, training, and education. Investigation of murder, fraud, robberies, car-thefts, terrorism threats, drug trafficking, human trafficking, and other types of crime is contingent on which level you work at (local, State, or Federal), and which task force you’re assigned to.

Some detectives choose to become Private Detectives, or Private Investigators (PIs), after they finish working for their respective agencies. PIs are usually contracted to solve personal matters, including: unsolved murder or missing person cases, infidelity, insurance fraud, and more. Private investigation is different in scope from typical detective work, and therefore, shouldn’t be assumed to mean the same thing.

Take a look at other great Criminal Justice Careers.

Footnotes & Sources

1. Bureau of Labor Statistics: National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates​

2. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages – Detectives and Criminal Investigators

Article written by Radek Gadek

Radek holds a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice from Boston University. He is currently doing consulting work and runs this blog to provide relevant information on criminal justice degrees, colleges and related careers.

63 comments… add one
  • Chelsea

    This site is very useful gives everything straight to the point, I am doing a project & my topic is detective because I am going to become one when im a adult & this information is exactly what i needed to have. Thank you.

    VeryNice. :}


  • Chessy

    Very useful site, as it is my dream to become a detective. Just wondering, what qualifications would you need to become an investigator or detective as I am considering studying Psychology at university but of course would change according to what was needed. Thanks!

    • Radek M. Gadek

      Well, the requirements are pretty much the same as listed above, but the article on How to Become a Detective? may help. Psychology is a good field, and depending where you’re thinking of working it may be a very good way to get you through the day as a detective.

  • Ryan Kennedy

    What is the difference between a homicide detective and crime scene investigator? I am currently majoring in criminal justice as a freshmen, as you know from before, and am wondering if I should minor in anything special. I am not looking to be a forensic scientist and stay in a lab all day, I would like to arrive at crime scenes, collect evidence, interview witnesses, investigate, and so on. When watching “The First 48″ it says “crime scene” on the back of their jackets sometimes in episodes as they search houses and so on for evidence. I basically want to do what they do. I live in Massachusetts and am not sure if it differs by each state.

    • Radek M. Gadek

      I wrote a post about the difference between a detective and a crime scene investigator?. It should be of some help.

      The requirements for a CSI may differ by state, but based on what you would like to do – collect evidence, investigate, and etc. – you might like the crime scene investigator track which is much different in scope from a detective profession.

  • Anthony

    Are Detectives on call?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      Yes, most departments try to accommodate their investigative units with “normal” shifts, but like with anything in life, most shifts are not your typical 9-5. You may work extended hours AND be called in after only a short respite. This may vary in severity department by department.

  • Alex

    If I were to become a Detective and I want to earn more pay than the average? Is it the more education I have the more I would get paid?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      That would be partially true. Some departments treat detective status as “the end of the road” for requirements — “all is equal now”.. kind of mentality. While others continually seek more education AND agency training. And still, there is nepotism and cronyism within police departments, where education may be a threat rather than an asset. It all depends where you end up pursuing your career.

  • Hayden

    Okay, I’m a high school senior, and I eventually want to be an FBI Special Agent. I got accepted to Penn State and I’m going to major in Criminal Justice. Now I also want to join the Marine Corp after which is why I’m enrolled in the ROTC program. After I get out of the military, I would like to become a detective to gain more experience. Is there a way to shorten the probationary period for eligibility to take the detective exam so that I won’t be to old by the time I’m ready to apply to the FBI?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      Probably not, although there may be Veteran’s Preference applied when you do. Also, you don’t need to be a detective before you join the FBI, nor do you have to join the Military. Granted these should help a lot, you still can apply with a strong Bachelor’s. Penn State is “the cream of the crop”.

  • Kelsi Walker

    This was a very helpful website and the information was very interesting. I enjoyed reading this and I’m major criminal justice after high school. Im finding the best colleges with the best curriculum to attend to major Criminal Justice. My goal is to get at least a 4.0 on my GPA. This information did benefit me and I highly appreciate it.

  • Lucero

    I’m a senior in high school and I want to be a crime scene investigator. I’m still not sure what college to attend to. Is a technical school a good option to get my degree? Like everst college and west wood university? Do they accept their degree?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      I would recommend better schools than those. Perhaps a traditional college education (but online, if you prefer) I highly recommend that the school you go to is regionally accredited and doesn’t carry a negative connotation. Research on Google, for example, about different schools and any potential problems. Nationally accredited schools are okay, too, but they are a FAR second choice.

      • Lucero

        Thanks, i really appreciate it.

  • Hunter Noren

    I’m a sophomore in High school, and I wanna go into criminal justice and be a cop and eventually be promoted to detective. But I cant see myself handling a tough situation on the job. Should I go into a different career?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      You still have time to test your “situation” handling skills. I wouldn’t write-it-off just yet.

  • Chris Potter

    Ok so this explains alot but do you have to go to college to become a part of this career? Do you have to have a min degree? I mean I know their is alot of training im a high school graduate and trying to get into the career of a detective/investigator? and don’t know where to start does this require you to have a college degree?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      Chris, the “do you have to go to college” part depends on the police department. Some departments require college education (60 semester credit hours/Associate’s, or Bachelor’s) and some don’t, but may require you to obtain a certain level of college education while on the force. There might be an educational requirement imposed on moving up to the detective position, which usually means that you have to take on a detective exam, but not always. A good read would also be the “Police Officer Career” on my site — find it under “Careers” at the top.

  • Byron

    This website is very helpful. Thanks for all the information and comments you have posted. Like everyone else that has left you a comment, I am very interested in the Criminal Justice field, more so on being a detective. If I am understanding this information right, depending on the agency or department I choose to apply for, I might not need college? Also, I would not become a detective immediately? I would have to take an exam after a certain period of being on the force? I am currently in the Marine Corps, I am an Intelligence Specialist. I was looking into taking online classes for a Bachelor Degree but i wasn’t certain which college I should apply for. Also, with being in my certain job in the military and pursuing an online degree would put me above my peers? Thanks in advance!

    • Radek M. Gadek

      Yes, you MIGHT NOT need college. You may have to wait (in most cases) to become a detective and an exam may be required. Sometimes, the promotion depends on merit, and yes, there are times when who you know trumps merit.

      I don’t like calling it an online degree anymore… it’s a degree (period!)… what you will be doing is attending a college or university, but online, so make sure it is regionally accredited and that it is strong as an academic institution AND/OR has a strong degree program… people look at these type of things, just like what car you drive, how well-kept you are, and the friend you keep. Will the degree put you above your peers? that depends when you graduate, what marks you get, and how many people your age have similar degrees at the time. Good luck on your adventure!

  • Brisa Az

    Very helpful. Thanx.
    Would becoming a detective/FBI special agent be too dangerous for a single mother? I’m debating on whether or not to live my dream career or choose a “safer” career. Keep in mind, I rather not sit behind a desk. I want to see some action, and solve cases! I chose to leave the military due to my beautiful boys but it’s time for me to move on with a career now that they are older (8 and 6). What do you think?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      I think there’s an inherent danger working in law enforcement, but I also know that following one’s own dreams is what can make one truly happy. You’ve got a big decision to make here; one with many considerations. I wish you all the best.

  • Tootie

    this is so helpful for me cause I’m debating with detective or a CSI agent. or anything near that field i really want to know if you go to college in another state lets say penn state do they have different ways to teach classes for criminal justice than john jay?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      they may have different teaching methods, course names, or even some courses, but both schools are just so top notch that it would be great to go to any one of them…

  • stefany

    stefany i am currently a freshman / sophomore at kean university in union new jersey and i am a criminal justice major working on getting my B.A degree , i am looking to be a detective , me as a female would this be a good choice for me ?

  • Oscar

    I was wondering if I can still become a detective if I have a misdemeanor on my record. It was for driving without a license and i was underage. Will it still count? I paid the fine and everything but still in my record but counts as zero points. Please help. Thanks

  • Jackie

    I am trying to decide which career will be best for me. I have many ideas in my head, but I have always been interested in mystery/thriller movies which has made me very interested in solving real mysteries. I a junior in high school and also taking college classes. My GPA has always been over 3.0. What does it take for a person to be a criminal investigator? Salary/hours? What are the disadvantages/advantages of the job?


  • Denise whitby

    I am currently a student and I am undecided about my major I want to be a homicide detective but I have two felonies but my crime is not violent, drug related or has nothing to do with children. Can someone please get back to me ASAP, ppl change and I want my chance to put back into my community but I have no idea whom to ask this question to.

  • Michael Herrera

    Say if you have a felony on your record which I know that I didn’t do. Can you still become a private investigator or a detective?

  • Vanessa Garcia

    Hello. My husband graduated and passed the state exam for police officer. But there is no jobs available in my region. He is working about 5 hours away from home. We have decided for him to go back to college and further his education. Problem is he doesn’t know what criminals justice career to study for. He wants something that is the least amount of time but will have demand and great salary…. Any comments would be appreciated.

  • Al

    I have a couple questions. I am getting out of the Navy soon and want to be a detective some day with the RHD division of the LAPD. I have a BA in criminal justice from Brandman University which is apart of the Chapman University system. Is this school likely to hurt my chance with the LAPD as it is not a top school or even a heard of school? I want to get my Masters but which program would be better for a wannabe detective, an MPA or a CJ degree?

  • Ben

    What benefits do detectives have?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      Detectives have police officer benefits. You can find out police officer and detective benefits like: health insurance, dental insurance, life insurance, sick days, personal days, vacation days, pensions plans and more on the website of the law enforcement agency that interest’s you. Majority of municipalities, counties, states and federal agencies are very transparent with the salary and benefit info.

  • James

    Can a person be a homicide detective in any state with a felony?


    I am currently at the end of my freshman year at a Christian Liberal Arts College. I am thinking of majoring in psychology with a minor in legal studies. Does that seem like an ok goal for my studies if I were to become a detective? This college doesn’t have a legal studies major so the minor would be my only choice. I was also wondering about vision. I have corrected vision with contact lenses but still do not have 20 20 and without the lenses or glasses, I can’t legally drive. Does that propose a concern?

  • Conner

    First off, thank you for the useful blog!

    I’m a senior in high school and am very interested in becoming a detective as a career. I know that i first have to be a police officer to become a detective, so while im a police officer will i be able to go to college to get a bachelors in criminal justice and then apply for the detective promotion? Also, while im a police officer, will they pay my tuition to go to college for criminal justice?

    • Radek Gadek

      Good questions.

      1. You’ll be able to attend college after you go through the police academy (where applicable). Many departments want to make sure you won’t hold other employment or have other excessive obligations, like schooling, during the academy. You don’t “need” a CJ degree. Others will do just as well. For example, Business and Computer Science are some of the strongest degrees considered by law enforcement agencies.
      2. Some departments offer tuition reimbursement (up to 100%) and some don’t.

  • Myranda

    What would I try to major in if I wanted to work with missing persons cases. Could you specifically request that position?

  • Sarah Dillistin

    Hey I’m Sarah, I’m a junior in high school and I am very interested in becoming a detective working with homicides. I know you have to become a police officer first, so I was wondering if its a good idea to get a psychology or CJ degree first, then become a police officer? Please reply if you can. Thanks so much!

    • Radek Gadek

      Both are great. Also consider other degrees, like business, accounting, economics, sociology, or forensic science.

  • Anthony K. Brent

    I’m 20 yrs old in the US Air Force and I’m in for about three more years. When I get out I want to get into a local police department and work towards becoming a detective, that’s my goal. I’ve got a couple of questions. The first is I will be in the guard or reserves after my active duty time is up. Will that be a problem? Do you know a lot of guard and / or reservists who are full time cops? My next question is while I’m in I’m working toward my degree… if I want to eventually be a detective should I go for criminology or criminal justice or does it matter? Is it better to join a state or local/city pd if I want to eventually become a detective?

  • Kendry silva

    I am a high school senior, and i want to become one of the detectives that runs on the streets in all black cars. Is that a different type of detective, and how many years of college it take?

  • santana morales

    this website is very useful to people who want to become a detective or a criminal justice worker. i’ve always wanted to become a detective and this site helped me understand more on what i want to do and how much the salary i will be getting. i am doing a report on this and now i know more on what i should write on my report and why this is really interesting to me.

    • santana morales

      i also wanted to know if you have to become a police officer first to become a detective? I think becoming a police officer first would be a little boring (no offense to those who are police officers). I certainly think I can handle all the dead bodies and other things. And i’ll tell you the truth i’m a 5th grader so don’t judge on my spelling right now.

  • Evan

    Love your site, i find it very useful. I am a freshman in high school and have been searching for a field to consider. My plan is to start as a local police officer and shoot for detective and maybe later on something at the federal level. My question is do you have to be picked for promotion or could you tell your employer you are interested and ask to be promoted.

    Hope this isn’t a stupid question

  • Leticia

    I’m planning to join the Air Force, but my main priority is to become a detective. Does joining the Air Force give me better chances in becoming a detective?

  • Tess Gibbs

    Hello, I have a question. I want to pursue a career in criminal justice, and for some time now I’ve been thinking about becoming a detective. Do you have any tips for the starting part. By the way I am a junior in Highschool, but it’s never too early to think about your future. I have found a nice college that I would really like to attend, Bowling Green University


  • Sparty

    I’m getting my Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice at Michigan State University and have an ultimate goal of working as a detective or a special agent in the FBI. I also have a special job in the Army with a Top Secret Security Clearance. I’m wondering how much, if at all, this will help speed my process up.

  • Jess

    I’m considering going into service, would I be able to get the required education and/or requirements to become a cop/ detective? Would it be easier to get a job in law enforcement as a vet?

  • Allie Erler

    Thank you so much for the information on this site! It helps me understand what to do and what direction to take. I really want to become a police detective and I am currently trying to work my way into police academy. My question is, is it absolutely necessary to have a criminal justice degree? I just recently graduated with my bachelor’s in Business Management from Brigham Young University (BYU) in December and I’m hoping that my degree would equally look just as great?


    • Radek Gadek

      No it’s not necessary at all. I wrote a blog post exactly on this topic: Criminal Justice Degree Not Always A Requirement. A business degree from a well respected BYU is just great in my opinion.

  • katlin

    Im a sophomore in high going to be a junior in 4months and i want to go for a detective. What kind of classes should i start taking in order to help me in collage? And how long does it take to complete your master degree for criminal investigation? What should your gpa be by senior year?

    • Jake Baber

      most local police departments offer internship type deals for high school students. this REALLY helps get your foot in the door and get great on hand experience. plus makes your name known to local PD. increasing your chances of when and if you do go back there getting a job FAST! go talk to your local PD about it

  • Ridelaine Noel-Jeune

    I plan on becoming a detective and working my way up. For example maybe becoming a sheriff or judge one day. Is a psychology major applicable and necessary?

  • Hanna

    So I’m really interested in the show Chicago PD. I want to do some work like what they do on the show. It’s apart of the Intelligence Unit, is that any different then an investigator? If so, how? And what should I study in school?

  • David galvan

    Greetings Radek,
    How likely is it that the opportunity to get a promotion to detective will occur? Is there an “average” time it takes someone to get the detective position? Why is the detective pay so across the board? What do I need to do to make sure I get paid $65,000+ a year? Approximately, how often would a detective be “on call”?

    • Radek Gadek

      1. Likelihood varies with each department and is largely dependent on whether the dept. is in need of new detectives. There may be times where promotions won’t happen for a number of years or there’s one or two positions open in the next few years.

      2. Not really. Some make it in 3 years, 5 years, while others do it in 10 or more. It hinges on many factors (most notably, on #1 above).

      3. It’s mainly based on how large the police department is and detective rank (a seasoned detective in a large municipality or county can make close to six figures).

      4. Get work at a larger department.

      5. Depending on their assignment (homicide, robbery, financial crimes…), detectives are mostly on call 24/7.

  • Olivia

    I’m thinking about being a detective or a lawyer is there any website that could help? do you have to become a police officer first to be a detective or can you just go to the academy and go straight to a detective Force? is there any school you would recommend? please get back to me. Thanks

  • richard tonkin

    I am presently a qualified detective commander in Organized an Violent crime investigations in South Africa. I hold the rank of a Lieutenant Colonel. I have 34 years service. I would like to inquire whether it at all will be possible for me to apply for a position there. I am not sure about about your policies regarding recruitment of members of other Police agencies. I am 53 years of age and have done several courses in the line of my work.

  • Pamela Riveri

    I read your blog & first off, THIS IS AMAZING !! I even saved this site on my home screen on my iPhone. Anyways, I’m sorry, totally off topic. My question is does this particular field also cover SVU ? Or is that listed somewhere else under a different field ?

  • Pamela Riveri

    I forgot something.
    I am a Stay-At-Home-Mommie of two boys. I’m currently breast feeding so, I can’t go ON CAMPUS to take classes.
    (Could you imagine me in the middle of a test, lecture or something & my son crying for breast milk ??)
    Yeah, that didn’t pan out well on my mind.
    So, I was wondering, would I be able to continue my Criminal Justice Education online from the comfort of my own home ??
    Would you even recommend that ?
    I know cosmetology is better taken in person for the hands on experience. Does that also the same for Criminal Justice ?
    My second, or third question actually is, I was going to Miami Dade College North Campus about 2 or 2 & 1/2 years ago. Should I continue there or is there a better school for Criminal Justice ? I already know where I plan to apply. My father works for the city & I know I can get hired for the same city once I finish my education.
    I just don’t know which school would be better. Distance isn’t really an issue, I have a family so, I’m willing to do whatever to make sure my Family is stable, especially since I’m going to be the MAIN PROVIDER & MONEY MAKER in our family.

    I’ve been told that a Broward College is “the best” for Criminal Justice ??

    I live in Hialeah Gardens, Florida.

    & I wrote a previous comment about being a Detective also covered SVU (Special Victims Unit) & if not under which field would I find it in ?

    Also, once I decided on a school, would I have to tell my admissions counselor which field I wanted or do I just study For Police Officer since I’d have to be a Police Officer first for a while until I reached the required amount of experience to be eligible for a promotion to an SVU Detective ??
    & how many years would you re commend I do ? Bachelors or Masters ? I was originally aiming for Bachelors. But, I’d continue. I LOVE this field. I have the SVU show on my NETFLIX & I watch it on tv. (As if I can’t get enough.)

    I hope I haven’t bored you to sleep or anything.
    I’m just really looking for the best quality education for my family & myself. I’d like to change our lives from what it currently is.

    My babies are my motivation. Inspiration.

  • Mia

    I’m a college sophomore majoring in criminal justice. I’m hoping for a career as a homicide detective. Once I finish my degree I’m considering joining the Air Force, in hopes of having to be an on-duty officer for a less amount of time & because I think it’d be a beneficial experience. Would having the Air Force under my belt be any help to me?

Leave a Comment