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How to Become a Detective in 2021

October 14, 2021 | Staff Writers

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Law enforcement is one of the coveted career paths you can choose. Most people venturing into law enforcement do it out of passion. The career involves a lot of risks to ensure service to provide service to the people. There are many job opportunities in law enforcement. The path you choose in this field depends on your qualifications and interest. Some of the most common law enforcement jobs include police, investigators, and detective jobs. These jobs are further divided into smaller sections. For instance, you might find patrol police officers and traffic police officers. The classification of duties leads to a difference in the possible salaries you could receive..

One of the most sought-after career paths in law enforcement is being a detective. The main role of a detective is to find essential information needed for law enforcement. A detective has the authority to make arrests when need be. In most cases, they are accompanied by police officers to enforce arrests. As a detective, you play an essential role in justice delivery as you uncover evidence for critical cases. There is a thin line between a detective and an investigator. Although both are involved in searching for evidence, detectives focus on establishing links between criminals and crimes committed. Additionally, a detective must receive proper law enforcement training. Investigators could be private investigators and, in most cases, need no police training.

To further understand the career, how to join, duties involved, and advantages therein, we explore the following:

  1. Education requirements to be a detective
  2. Steps to becoming a detective
  3. Skills needed to become a detective
  4. Career options available to detective

Education Requirements to Be A Detective

Understanding the academic requirements needed for a career is essential in preparing for it. Like other careers, there are several educational requirements that you must fulfill to become a detective. These requirements vary depending on the nature of the work. There are several branches within the detective career, and the branch you major in determines the role you play in law enforcement. Although all of them involve uncovering criminal activities, the work environments are very different. Some of the most common branches within the career include:

  • Homicide Detective

Homicides are among the most common forms of high-profile crimes. To solve such cases, law enforcement officers need assistance from homicide detectives. The two, police officers and homicide detectives, work hand-in-hand to analyze pieces of evidence collected from homicide crime scenes. Analysis of forensic evidence such as fingerprints and DNA samples is essential in criminal justice. Through this process, detectives can identify and question suspects of the homicide. Homicide detectives are involved in questioning suspects to find out their involvement in the crimes in question.

  • Police Detectives

Being in law enforcement, especially the police force, involves dealing with complex crimes other than homicides. For this reason, police detectives are sought-after to help connect dots and gather adequate evidence for prosecution. Police detectives are involved in the analysis of collected evidence. Unlike homicide detectives, police detectives deal with more general crimes. Their investigative skills cover a wider scope of the criminal justice field. This role includes interviewing suspects and victims of crimes to find incriminating evidence. Police detectives are further divided into specializations such as sex crimes and property crimes detectives. In smaller institutions, police detectives generally work on all duties as there is not enough manpower for specialization. Smaller institutions can seek help from specialized detectives when dealing with high-profile cases.

Although a detective’s duties could be distinct, their foundational roles and education are closely related. After settling for a detective’s career path, your next task is to find where you can attend your classes. There are various institutions where you can get the education to be a detective. To work for the government, you must be a licensed detective. There are two main places you can get an education to become a licensed detective. They include:

  • An Accredited College or University

A bachelor’s degree is one of the main requirements to be a licensed detective. The degree you get should be, of course, related to being a detective. For instance, you can study forensic science or criminology. However, in some cases, universities have dedicated courses for detectives. In such courses, you are trained by licensed detectives. The academic requirements for entering your university or college depend on your institution of choice and the course you enroll for. Courses such as forensic science involve stringent academic performance in your high school education.

  • Police Training College

Being a detective involves dealing with crimes and criminals of different magnitudes. Going to a police training college equips you with the necessary skills needed to handle criminals. Besides mental skills, you will undergo physical training to keep you fit for work in different environments. Physical and mental stamina are essential in your work life as a detective. Some cases involve working long hours and in harsh environments.

There are essential skills you must have to be a successful detective. These include interpersonal skills and analytical skills. Some of these skills are learned at training institutions, while others you develop on the job. If you are concerned about what to know before entering a detective training institution, you could consult career experts and practicing detectives. Consulting helps you understand what specialization is best suited for you.

Becoming a detective requires preparation from as early as high school. Career selection is done after high school education. Depending on your score, you can either join a training institution for an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree. In high school, you should major in essential subjects such as mathematics and humanities. High school scores could be ignored if you venture into being a detective after studying a different but related profession. In such cases, you should major in courses such as criminology and forensic science. These courses offer foundational training that is essential for detective work.

Steps to Becoming A Detective

Like other careers, there are career paths you need to follow to be a detective. These steps vary depending on the specialization you major in. There are different qualifications you need to rise from one level to another. Most of these qualifications are educational. However, you can rise through career ranks by gaining work experience. Here are some of the typical steps you might follow to become a detective.

  • Selecting A Career

The initial step of any career path is selecting your preferred profession,  which is usually done at the high school level. At this level, you get to choose courses to study for your career. You can pursue several majors to become a detective, most of which are criminal justice majors. After selecting a career, you must focus on essential subjects required for admission into training institutions. To enter any detective-related course, you must attain certain minimum scores in mathematics and humanities. The score threshold could vary depending on your specialization of interest or the institution you want to study in.

  • Enroll into A Training Institution

You need skills to be a detective. As stated earlier, you learn some detective skills in training institutions. These skills are essential and form the foundation for your career as a detective. There are several institutions you can enroll in for formal education to be a detective. You can enroll in a police training college after completing your high school education. In such institutions, they train you to become a police officer. You can advance to become a police detective later on while in practice. However, you will have to undergo specialized training while in the police force. Alternatively, you can enroll in a college for a degree in criminal justice or related courses. Various professionals in the law enforcement sector could become detectives in the future. Depending on what you study, you can become a homicide detective, police detective, or venture into private investigation.

To become a detective, you must undergo necessary training in a police academy. The training focuses on equipping you with the mental and physical prowess required for detective work. Some essential skills needed by detectives you cannot learn in conventional institutions. Skills such as handling weapons require approval by the police. Additionally, the legal process of apprehending criminals and handling sensitive cases such as sex crimes are taught in police academies.

  • Seek Licensure

Law enforcement is one of the most important sectors in the country. It directly affects the safety of citizens and government operations. Therefore, the government regulates the operations of all detectives through licensing. After completing your training, you must obtain a license to work as a detective. Licenses vary depending on how you want to operate. If you intend to work as a private detective, you might have to meet more stringent requirements than working for the government. To be a government detective, you have to be employed by a government-run security agency, including the CIA, FBI, or the police force. Private detectives work for private security firms. Alternatively, a licensed private detective can work on their own as freelance detectives. In such instances, they are only called to work on certain cases then go back to their other duties when the work is complete.

There are several licenses you need as a detective. Some of these licenses come from the national government, while others come from State authorities. The common licenses you need to practice include:

  • Professional Service License- All professionals within the United States must meet standards to be allowed to work. Professional bodies set these standards to guarantee quality service delivery to the citizens. If you want to work as a detective, you must have a license from the necessary body mandated by the state authorities. You will undergo professional training and tests before you are licensed. In some cases, someone may interview you about your past life to determine your suitability for the law enforcement sector. The requirements for professional service licensing vary from one state to another. However, most states insist that applicants should be at least 21 years of age with a minimum work experience of 3 years in a recognized security agency. Some states prohibit licensing of individuals previously convicted of a felony. 
  • Firearm licensing- As stated earlier, a detective’s work involves a lot of security challenges. Some of these challenges are life-threatening. If you intend to work on high-profile cases, you need a firearm for self-protection. Firearms are dangerous when in the hands of the wrong person. To minimize instances of firearm-related crimes, the government insists on licensing all firearms. As a detective, you need a license to walk around with your firearm without breaking the law. You will undergo various tests and training by the licensing body, usually the state’s security oversight agencies, before getting your license. The training includes how to handle the firearm and regulations on when to use it. 

There are many other licenses needed when pursuing careers in criminology. The licenses depend on the job you intend to do in your career life. Once you obtain a license, you need to renew it after a certain period. The renewal periods vary depending on various reasons; however, most are valid for a year.

Skills Needed to Become A Detective

Licensure is the foundation of your career journey. However, a license only doesn’t guarantee your success as a detective. There are certain skills that you must have to be a successful detective. For those learned in training institutions, you need to keep updating yourself.
It could be through online programs. Crime and justice are constantly changing. Therefore, updating your skills will help keep you relevant in the profession. Additionally, willingness to learn new skills will help you survive in the industry. In your work life, you will interact with other detectives working in different specializations. You should be open-minded to learn some skills from how they do their work. Diversifying your skillset increases your marketability as a detective. Some of the essential skills you need to become a detective include:

  • Analytical Skills

The main role of a detective is to uncover hidden facts about crimes that could be useful in delivering justice. To achieve this, you must piece together bits of information to develop conclusive information for law enforcement. Analytical skills are important in determining useful information from unnecessary pieces of information. When interrogating suspects, you must be analytical to establish links between their statements and the crime. The ability to analyze language helps you tell whether a suspect is telling the truth or not.

  • Communication Skills

Communication is important for detective work. As a detective, you should be able to go out and talk to strangers to get information. You must be confident and outgoing to engage with people irrespective of age. Interrogative skills allow you to get information from suspects when need be. Perfect listening skills are essential when interrogating suspects as a detective. You need to pay close attention to get viable information from suspects’ statements. Additionally, good listening skills can help you detect inconsistencies in statements where two or more suspects are involved.

  • Problem-Solving Skills

Detectives form an integral part of the law enforcement system. The ability to put together small bits of information and come up with solutions for crimes is a must-have in this career. As a detective, you combine all your skills and knowledge to solve complex criminal cases. Problem-solving skills are essential as the investigation process could encounter various hindrances. As a detective, you must provide information that could help in justice delivery through logic and reasoning.

  • Computer Skills

Technological advancements have affected criminal justice in various ways. A lot of criminal cases today are technology-related. As a detective, you must have computer skills to uncover critical information about a case. Additionally, technology has been incorporated into law enforcement in various ways. The most common is the digitization of information and criminal records by authorities. Digitization of records improves security and access to essential files needed in solving crimes. As an effective investigator, you must be able to access all possible sources of information, online and offline. Some crimes are coordinated through online platforms. Computer skills allow you to collect information about all involved parties.

There are several other skills you need to be a successful detective. However, those mentioned above are the main ones. It is essential to develop your skills as you advance in your career. Crime is continuously changing, and new threats to national security are generated with time. There are many ways to upgrade your skills. You can attend workshops or short courses focused on specific detective skills. However, skills such as analytical thinking cannot be taught in school. Getting involved in technical cases improves your thinking capacity. You can also enhance your analytical skills by playing mental games such as chess in your free time.

Career Options Available to Detectives

Being a detective is one of the best career paths you can choose in law enforcement. It provides a wide range of opportunities that you can venture into. Additionally, it is easier to rise through the ranks as a detective. Unlike other careers, the career path for detectives is easy to navigate. You can rise through the ranks as a detective based on your work experience or educational qualifications. How fast you rise through the ranks depends on several factors. One of the main factors is the specialization you choose. Specializations affect the jobs you do as a detective. Some of the common jobs you can do as a detective include:

  • Forensic Investigator

Forensics is one of the most coveted jobs in law enforcement. It involves analysis of items at the crime scene and those collected from the scene for essential information. As a detective, you can diversify your skills and work as a forensics expert. Forensic investigators work together with other law enforcement officers in identifying suspects based on information collected at a crime scene. There are various items a forensic investigator deals with. They include DNA samples, fingerprints among others. If you are a police detective, you might have to undergo additional training to work as a forensic investigator. However, homicide detectives do not need much additional training. The foundational skills and knowledge taught to forensic investigators are almost similar to what homicide detectives learn.

  • Forensic Psychologist

There is a thin line between a forensics investigator and a forensic psychologist. The main difference between the two careers is when they get involved in solving a crime. A forensic psychologist mainly deals with the people involved in a crime, which is contrary to forensic investigators who deal with collected evidence. Forensic psychologists are majors in psychological analysis. They are usually called in to question suspects and victims of a crime. If you are a practicing detective, you can work as a forensic psychologist as well. The interrogative skills you learn as a detective are useful when interviewing victims and suspects as a forensic psychologist. However, you might need to go through psychology classes to perfect your skills for this job. Some suspects are good at playing with the psychology of interrogators. You need perfect psychological skills to handle such cases. You might also need a new license to practice as a forensic psychologist.

  • Private Investigator

One good thing about being a detective is that you can work for as long as you wish. After retiring from public service or employment, you can become a private investigator. Private citizens or companies hire private investigators to find information about people or situations. The private investigation presents an opportunity to use the skills you learned during training to be a detective. However, success in private investigation relies on referrals from other clients, so the magnitude of work you do as an employed detective determines how much you earn as a private detective. In most cases, you must handle the types of cases that you are experienced in. That is, you cannot be called for homicide cases if you did not specialize in it.

There are many other career opportunities related to being a detective. The number of employment opportunities for detectives depends on the specialization you venture into. For instance, if you intend to be a private investigator, you do not need to specialize in technical areas like homicides. Homicide investigations are taken care of by the government authorities, and interference by private investigators could lead to complications. One way to earn at the peak of your career is by becoming a consultant for law enforcement agencies and private security companies. The knowledge and experience allow you to find solutions to complex problems faster. Therefore, other detectives could consult you for cues in solving crimes.

How much you earn as a detective depends on several factors. One of them is the marketability of the specialization you choose. Studying the career outlook for certain specializations is essential at the beginning of the career. It helps you gauge the possible income and opportunities you will get in your career. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for detectives will keep rising as long as there are crimes. Individuals and organizations seek answers to certain criminal activities that can only be provided by detectives. In most cases, some people contract private investigators when they are unsatisfied by the government’s investigation.

In Summary

Law enforcement is one of the essential sectors in the country. There are many career opportunities in this field. One of the main ones is being a detective. There are various types of detectives depending on what they do, including police detectives and homicide detectives. Some specializations in the detective career are more marketable than others. Therefore, you need to pay close attention when selecting one to major in. Consulting career experts and practicing detectives will help you find a specialization that is best suited for you. There are two main sources of formal education if you want to be a detective: conventional colleges and police training academies. At the end of your training, you need a license to practice as a detective. Licensure is the government’s way of regulating practitioners in the law enforcement sector.

There are essential skills that you need for success as a detective. Some of these skills are learned at school, while others develop as you progress in your career. Some of these skills are analytical thinking and computer skills. While you can develop some skills through additional learning, analytical thinking is developed by engaging in mental games such as chase. You can venture into private practice after retiring as an employed detective. Success as a private detective depends on referrals. Your experience and success in employment determine your future. There are other careers you can venture into as a detective. However, most of these careers are related to law enforcement. The continued cases of crime lead to a steady demand for detectives.

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