In contrast to uniformed police officers, detectives and criminal investigators often work in plainclothes or undercover. They may be assigned to investigate and combat specific types of crime – such as fraud or homicide – and serve within an interagency task force. Their work often involves examining records, conducting interviews, monitoring the activities of suspects and conducting arrests and raids. Most detectives and criminal investigators are assigned to particular cases on a rotating basis, and will continue their work until an arrest and conviction is made.
Detectives and criminal investigators use various means to discover the facts in a case. They may observe and collect evidence at the scene of a crime, search records via computer or perform physical surveillance, watching activities from a car or remote location. They may also be called on to provide testimony in court.
Detectives and Criminal Investigator Jobs Summary
- Detectives and criminal investigators are involved in work that can be dangerous, but they find satisfaction in solving crimes and protecting the public.
- Employment in this field is projected to have faster than average growth, as crimes tend to rise with increasing populations.
- More than half of all detectives and criminal investigators hold a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Work Environment for Detectives and Criminal Investigators
While detectives and criminal investigators may have an office or desk, they also spend a considerable amount of time out of the office in such activities as collecting evidence, doing surveillance, conducting interviews or providing sworn testimony in court.
Work can be dangerous and stressful for detectives and criminal investigators, especially when they must confront and apprehend suspects, so they must carry firearms. They may be assigned a 40-hour work week, but paid overtime is common. Because crime happens at all hours, detectives and criminal investigators may be required to work evenings and weekends, or be on call in case of breaking developments.
Education, Training and Licensing
Most detectives and criminal investigators hold at least a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, law enforcement or a related field, although some jobs may accept candidates with an associate's degree in criminal justice. Courses in police science, criminology, criminal justice and forensics are helpful to those who wish to enter this field. For certain specialized jobs, other degrees may appropriate; for example, a computer forensics investigator may be required to hold a computer science degree.
Some detectives and criminal investigators begin their careers as uniformed police officers, and may complete police academy training. Because their work may involve chasing and restraining suspect, individuals serving in these roles should be in good health and physically fit.
Employment Figures, Projections, Outlook and Earnings
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), detectives and criminal investigators held approximately 110,380 jobs as of May 2009. Most were employed by federal, local or state governments, while smaller numbers worked for the postal service or educational institutions.
The BLS projects faster than average employment growth for detectives and criminal investigators between 2008 and 2018.
BLS surveys revealed that the median annual wage for detectives and criminal investigators was $62,110 in May 2009. The middle 50% earned between $47,070 and $83,650. The lowest 10% had an annual income of about $37,960, while the highest 10% made approximately $99,980 per year.