How to Become a Detective

Do you enjoy complex puzzles and mysteries? Do you have great intuition? If so, consider detective work. Detectives gather evidence for criminal cases, protect individuals or businesses from crime and harm, and conduct background checks. Detectives are employed by agencies, businesses, or individuals.

Consider online Criminal Justice programs currently accepting applicants:

Where Detectives Work

Police Departments:
Detectives working for police departments do not wear uniforms and gather evidence for criminal cases, using interviews, computer research, and surveillance. Police detectives usually specialize in a field, such as homicide, fraud, or gangs.

Corporate detectives are hired to investigate employees or clients suspected of fraud or other practices harmful to the business.

Store detectives work to prevent employee or customer theft. Hotel detectives ensure the safety of hotel guests and prevent theft.

Private detectives/investigators are hired by individuals (or businesses) to investigate others for legal, financial, or private matters. They use computer research and surveillance for matters including suspected marital infidelity, child custody, and missing-persons cases.

Educational Requirements to Become a Detective

Educational requirements for detectives vary. In police departments, most detectives begin as uniformed police officers, earning detective status through advancement. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, to become a police officer (and ultimately a detective), many departments require the completion of at least 1-2 years of college coursework, and sometimes a college degree, in criminal justice, police science, or related field.

Getting Licensed as a Detective

To be a private detective in most states, you will need to become a licensed private detective. Coursework in forensics, criminal justice, and law enforcement can help you tackle licensure. If you’re ready to begin your exciting detective career, learn more here.

Different Types of Detectives

Police Detective

A police detective generally is a plain clothes officer who is responsible for gathering intelligence, information, and evidence covering a crime. This may take the form of apprehending suspects, interviewing them, interrogating informants, or taking fingerprints or DNA samples for analysis. You might need to obtain bank records, emails, correspondence, credit card usage records, or telephone call data. For most of these items, you would need to secure a search warrant first.

Most times, if you become a police detective, you can expect to receive cases on a rotational basis, just taking on the next one in a list. This is unless you have any specialist skills that would make a case more appropriate to your specialist skill set and knowledge base e.g. cyber crime. You may find that you need to liaise and work with officers from other law enforcement agencies.

Most police officers join the police force and spend time studying in police academy. To become a police detective, you would generally be required to hold a minimum of a relevant bachelor’s degree before completing specialist training at police academy, or a local college. Suitable subjects for a bachelor’s degree include police science, criminology, or criminal justice. You will need to be physically and mentally fit. Any mental health history, drug abuse, or criminal activity may preclude you from a police career.

Private Detective

A career as a private detective likely seems exciting and potentially very profitable. When considering a career as a private detective, you must know the educational requirements and other expectations.

What does a private detective do?

A private detective investigates people, companies and agencies. They offer a wide array of services such as finding missing persons, investigating financial dealings and verifying a person’s background. Private detectives are sometimes on the staff of companies or organizations that employ them to gather information. They find and analyze the facts related to each specific case.

Detectives may sometimes conduct surveillance, while other time is spent working in an office or out in the field to gather evidence. They may interview people or conduct computer investigations. A private detective often testifies in a variety of court proceedings.

Much of the work of a private detective is conducted alone, compared with the work of other law enforcement personnel who usually work in an office setting or work closely with other team members. The private investigator does not usually have a set shift since each case may require working irregular hours. While the prospect of traveling when on-the-job may seem enticing, the job is sometimes stressful, dangerous and physically demanding.

Educational Requirements for a PD

A prospective private detective should obtain a law enforcement degree, although not all states require a degree. What is required is that the private detective be licensed in all but seven states. The more knowledge and education that a private detective has, the greater the likelihood of being hired to work for a firm or agency on a regular basis. If you plan to specialize in a particular area as a private detective, additional courses in that specific area, such as computer science, cyber crime or finance are advantageous.