What it takes to become a law enforcement detective

As of 2009, there were just over 110,000 people employed in law enforcement detective jobs in the U.S.  This number includes local, state and federal departments. While the employment outlook for these jobs is good, the fact that detectives have more status and earn a higher salary means that the competition is intense for these positions. 

Most police departments fill the position of law enforcement detective or criminal investigator from their ranks of patrol officers. Usually, departments require that you’ve worked for a period of two to five years as a patrol officer before you can take the test to qualify as a detective. This is because they want to hire detectives who’ve earned their stripes, so to speak, and who have a proven record of job performance in law enforcement.  If you’re a patrol officer who wants to advance to detective, make sure you have an excellent performance record, or chances are you’ll be denied access to the job of law enforcement detective.

In larger city police departments a law enforcement detective is often required to obtain associate’s or bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice. Even if your department doesn’t have this requirement, your chances of getting a promotion to detective are far greater if you do have some college credits or degree in criminal justice.  Since the field is extremely competitive, it’s important to do everything you can to pave the way toward your career goal of becoming a law enforcement detective.

If you undergo schooling in order to become a law enforcement detective, part of your studies will include classes in criminal investigation. This program of study covers a wide variety of crimes that detectives are required to investigate, such as arson, sex crimes, homicide, illegal gaming, computer crime, drug trafficking and financial crime.  You’ll also be studying things such as evidence gathering, interrogations, forensic psychology and legal issues pertaining to the field of criminal investigation.

Becoming a law enforcement detective is an excellent career choice.  Detectives earn anywhere from $46,000 to $81,000 annually. The average pay for the job is $61,000, which is significantly higher than the average pay for a patrol officer.  You should know that one of the drawbacks of being a law enforcement detective is that, because of the nature of crime, you’ll be required to work long, erratic hours and can be called out to a crime scene in the middle of the night and on weekends.  


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