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How to Become a Detective – A Complete Guide

Do you want to learn what it takes to become a detective online? If YES, here is a complete guide plus requirements needed to become a detective without being a cop.

Being a detective is quite a demanding job both physically, and emotionally. Detectives are required to stay mentally alert, put in lots of hours and view crime scenes that might be disturbing. Detectives gather facts, collect, analyze evidence and conduct interviews, which are needed to solve crimes like fraud, homicide, and tax evasion. The evidence produced by a detective, are used in different types of courts as expert testimony.

What is a Detective?

A detective can be defined as a member of the police force, or a private investigator, whose task is to obtain information and evidences, against crimes that have been committed against the law, and who after obtaining evidences, and solving the crimes, can use these to catch criminals.

There are two kinds of detectives either for local or state level; those that work as police officers first, pass a test and later earn the promotion to become a detective or those that are regarded as private detectives. A private detective or investigator assists, law enforcement agencies, individuals and corporations, and have the options of working for attorneys, private citizens, or themselves by opening their own agencies.

Most private investigators are former law enforcement agents, spies, military officers or security guards. A private detective does not in many parts of the world, have the power to make an arrest. A private investigator has to be licensed.

Duties of a Detective and their Job Description

Police Detective

  • Examination of crime scenes: Police detectives; examine crime scenes so as to obtain evidence and clues, which could help in solving a crime. Evidence could be fibers, clothing, hairs, or weapons.
  • Securing Evidence: Evidence has to be secured in crime scenes like, homicides from the deceased body and then preventing bystanders from tampering on the crime scene, and destroying evidence prior to the arrival of the medical examiner. Securing evidence from other crime scenes could involve picking up loose hairs, clothing, and or weapons.
  • Conducting interviews: Interviews are conducted around the crime scenes, and from any other related source. Also, what is gotten from this, might lead to the suspect.
  • Obtaining evidence from suspects: Getting a suspect is only half of the task, as evidence has to be collected, by linking the suspect to the crime.
  • Provide Testimony: After successfully arresting a suspect, the detective has to be able to testify in the court as a witness against the suspect- especially since most of the evidence used are ones that were provided by the detective.
  • The detective also has to analyze, complete police reports to ensure that any additional information is provided, and extra investigative carried out when needed.
  • Performing regular investigations for all crime cases assigned to him, and maintaining knowledge on factual requirements.
  • Another duty is to provide charges or respond to charges and, or information for court cases, according to formalized procedures.
  • Maintaining and updating, fingerprints, photographs and files for various suspects and offenders.
  • Maintain all records gotten from crime scenes.

Private Investigator

  • Research: A private investigator has to be able to carry out research. The research can be on family history, legal records, medical records, background check on a job candidate, or using the computer to carry out a research. The research is needed, since the facts for whatever case will be gotten through research, before being analyzed, and used in solving a case.
  • Interviewing: Interviews are conducted by the investigators on people so as to get the necessary information, or evidence, needed to present as court evidence, or solve a case.
  • Surveillance: Surveillance is the act of watching a person and his activities, without his awareness and reporting your findings to your client for further action.

Tools and Equipment Needed By a Detective

  • Bullet Proof Vest: This is a personal armor that helps, reduce or prohibit penetration to the body from shrapnel, and projectiles from fire-arms.
  • Evidence collection kit: An evidence collection kit is a properly sealed package that serves to gather and preserve evidence collected from a crime scene.  
  • Digital cameras: A digital camera records, and properly stores photographic images in digital form and can be transferred to a computer. Detectives use the camera especially when they want to go over the crime scene evidence without going directly to the scene. The cameras can also be used, to take close-up shorts of the scene, and other areas that might catch their attention.
  • Handguns: Detectives can get into very dangerous situations; a hand gun protects both the detective and bystanders from dangerous actions by the criminal. Handguns are used in case of extreme force.
  • Two way radios: The radio is used for receiving and giving out information. A police detective might need to radio the base station for back-up and assistance.
  • Handcuffs: handcuffs are needed by the detective to apprehend and subdue criminals, once they have been caught. The handcuffs are made of steel and detectives usually carry more than one, for when they encounter more than one criminal.
  • Flashlights: A flashlight is a hand-held electric light that is usually portable and usually powered by batteries. Detectives require torches for when a criminal or victim is in a dark place, and needs to be rescued or apprehended.
  • Dictation machine: A dictation machine is used mostly by a private investigator to record speech either by the victims, themselves and sometimes the suspects.
  • Police vehicles: This is used for getting to a crime scene, patrolling, or tailing a suspect. Detectives need police vehicles to move around.
  • Personal protective equipment: This refers to protective clothing, gloves, masks, goggles, helmets and other equipment that is designed to protect the detective from injury, or infection.
  • Bindle Paper: This is a clean paper that is folded in a defined manner in a series of steps, to use in containing trace evidences.
  • Biohazard bags: Is a disposable bag that has the strength to withstand ripping or tearing and, which is impervious to liquid or moisture, under normal handling conditions.
  • Bodily fluid collection kits: These are vials that are used to collect fluids, from a crime scene, for onward examination at the laboratory. The kit protects the detective from infections.
  • Evidence seal: Evidence seals are used to secure crime scenes prevent tampering, and also provide some level, of security.
  • Footwear casting materials: These are used to preserve footwear impressions and allow for comparison and analysis.
  • Latent print kit: Fingerprints that are left at crime scenes and aren’t immediately visible to the eye are lifted using the latent print kit.
  • Crime scene ruler/measuring devices: This is used to support the crime scene sketch, scene mapping, and general measurement.
  • Spray paint and chalk: This is used to mark important parts in a crime scene. Example, in a homicide, the chalk is used to outline the body of a victim; exactly as it was found.

How to Become a Detective – A Complete Guide

Facts, Figures and Statistics in the Labor Market

In the United States

  • According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for police detective will experience, a slow growth of 3% through 2020.
  • The average annual salary for police detectives at state level was $79,870, with a mean hourly rate of $38.40 as at 2014, and employment for police detectives is expected to grow, by 2% between 2012 and 2022.
  • There were 115,000 police detectives, as at 2012 and 27,700 are expected to be employed between 2012 and 2022.
  • The demands for private investigators are likely to increase by 11% from 2012 to 2020. Private investigators earned an average annual salary of $45,740, with an hourly rate of $21.99. The number of jobs held by private investigators, as at 2012 was 30,000; with entry education level being a high school diploma or its equipment. Between 2012 and 2022, there is expected to be an employment growth, of 3,300 for private investigators.
  • One must be a U.S citizen, or a permanent resident alien applying for citizenship.
  • One must be 21, by the time one is graduating from the academy.
  • One must have a valid driver’s license.
  • Most detectives start as patrol officers, and then move up as positions open.

In the UK

  • Detectives earn an average of £30,810 per year as at 2015.
  • There is no entry educational requirement, as graduates and non-graduates can become detectives. Detectives usually, referred to as CIDs, have no separate data in the UK as all the data, have been lumped with that of the police.
  • Also, there is a shortage of 5,000 detectives.
  • Detectives work within the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and in special units, which deal with fraud, drugs and stolen vehicles.
  • There are different ranks in the CID and, they are: Detective Constable, Detective Sergeant, Detective Inspector, Detective Chief Inspector, Detective Superintendent, and Detective Chief Superintendent.
  • There is a decline for police detectives in the UK, as there is a shortage of 5,000 detectives, across England and Wales.
  • Detectives are paid on the same salary scale, as the police officers.
  • Detectives work 40 hours a week, in shifts that cover 24 hours a day, and seven days, a week.
  • There are currently no licensing regulatory government agencies, to license private investigators.
  • The licensing of private investigators and, firms used to be regulated by the Security Industry Authority (SIA) act.

In Australia

  • As of 2012, average work hours were 35.9 hours.
  • The percentage of females, working full time was 19.3%. New South Wales (NSW) has the highest employment of police detectives, followed closely by Queensland with 24.6%. The average annual salary for a police detective is AU$67,510.
  • New South Wales have the highest police detectives.
  • Private Investigators must be licensed, by the licensing authority relevant to the state, the investigator is located in. Licenses are administered, and regulated by the state police.
  • Companies that offer investigative services are required to hold a business license while all its operatives must hold individual licenses.
  • The Australian Capital does not require that private investigators be licensed, although they remain bound by legislation. A private investigator working in the capital though cannot enter New South Wales, as he would require a CAPI license.

In Canada

  • The average age for a detective, is 37 years.
  • In Canada, police detectives earned an annual average of C$30,809. In Kentucky, female detectives take a share ratio of 54%.
  • You must be of age, either 18 or 19.
  • Meet the requirements of citizenship
  • Graduate high school
  • Have a certification in CPR and first aid.
  • Detectives work as fourth-class constables immediately after graduation from the police academy.

Is the Demand for Detective Professionals Growing or Dying?

The demand for police detectives cannot be said to be growing, neither is it a saturated market. In the US, there is only a marginal increase of 2%, for police detectives from between 2012 to 2022. In the U.K, there is a shortage of 5,000 CID officers, mainly due to the fact that the willpower to bring out policies, which would aid the officers and police force as a whole isn’t there.

The job of a police detective is highly risky, and as such, there will be few people willing to put their lives on the line. This therefore means that the demand for the profession is not dying yet, but isn’t growing as well.

The Impact of Internet Technology to the Detective Career Industry?

The positives:

  • Offenders with a serial record, now have their data on the internet, especially for infamous crimes. This can be used as a quick research
  • The internet can be used as a research tool especially in finding out about a place before surveillance.
  • Social media platforms can be used to scan for offenders, thereby making the job of the detectives easier.
  • The internet allows for interchange of ideas and information between members of the public and detectives.
  • Information about accidents and disasters can quickly be passed along, so that there could be effective response.

The negatives:

  • Due to the slow and bureaucratic processes that are part of the police force; especially as criminals are much better at adapting to changing technology, one would have liked especially in apprehending criminals.
  • Detectives have to be adept at using the internet and still handle paperwork. This makes things more difficult for the detectives.
  • Heinous crimes are carried over the internet by anonymous criminals, making work difficult for the detective.

Career Opportunities Open to a Detective

  1. First Line Supervisors of Police and Detectives: They directly supervise, and coordinate the activities, of members of the police force.
  2. Fire Investigators-: They conduct, investigations, so as to determine the cause of explosions, and fires.
  3. Private/Criminal Investigators-: They collect and analyze information for businesses, attorneys and individuals. They are usually self-employed or work for an agency.
  4. Federal Investigator-: This is for those that want to go beyond local and state. Federal investigators work on federal crimes such as terrorism, drug trafficking, kidnapping, internet crime, and organized crime.
  5. Police Patrol Officers-: Police patrol officers patrol areas they have been assigned to, so as to enforce law and ordinances. They also arrest violators, control crowds, regulate traffic, and prevent crime.
  6. Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs-: They enforce the law, and order in rural areas or districts. They also serve legal processes of court houses.
  7. Special Event Security Officer: They help create a secure environment by being observant, and providing a visible deterrence to disruptions and crime at special events, according to policies and client instructions.
  8. Executive Protection: These are security measures which are taken to ensure the safety, and protection of important personalities, and individuals with high status in the society, like celebrities; who may be exposed to risk because of their wealth, and status.
  9. Security Operations: This involves either engaging in day-to-day security operations of a client or working as a manager to supervise the day-to-day security operations, of a client site from field investigators and supervisors and site and shift supervisors.
  10. Crisis Management: A crisis manager works with public officials in certain emergency situations like natural disasters, or chemical spills. The crises manager in a crisis oversees the activities, of the workers and ensures that, the safety of the employees, and public are protected.
  11. Security Consultant: Security consultants provide services to businesses on the security of their commercial property or to individuals on the security of their residences. Some consultants might specialize in computers and information systems.
  12. Risk Managers: Risk managers identify and assess threats and are responsible for ensuring that the risks are reduced, or transferred. Risks managers are specialized in different areas like technology risk, regulatory and operations risk, business continuity, so an organization might need to have more than one.

Professional Bodies Within the Detective Industry

  • In the United States

United States Association of Professional Investigators (USAPI): USAPI focuses on educating, certifying and providing other benefits to its members who even include students.

In the UK

  • Association of British Investigators (ABI): This is an association that seeks to uphold professional standards, and also regulate the profession whilst promoting excellence.
  • Institute of Professional Investigators (IPI): IPI is concerned with encouraging its members in achieving and maintaining a high professionalism standard, while carrying out their investigative duties.

In Australia

  • Australian Crime Commission (ACC): This is a commission, whose responsibilities are to combat serious crime, such as terrorism, corruption, and drug trade.
  • Australian Institute of Professional Investigators (AIPI): Aipi was established to develop awareness amongst stakeholders, as well as creating a professional, and increasing the education required, of the investigations industry.

In Canada

  • Canadian Police Association (CPA): The Canadian Police Association represents members, across different ranks and cadres, and provides a support network to its members.

Benefits of Becoming a Detective

  • Job security-: Detectives have a high level of job security, this means that they have a small chance of being unemployed.
  • Ability to transfer skills-: The benefit of starting as a police officer, before becoming a detective, allows for the skills garnered to be transferred and then even If the detective wants to transfer to a similar occupation or something related.
  • Sick Leave-: Detectives are entitled to a sick leave of 13 days per year, but this might be allowed to accumulate without any limit over their career.
  • Paid Holidays-: Detective get paid holiday benefits, of 11 days per year.
  • Compensation for additional duty-: All additional duties are compensated for, it could be time spent in the court. The additional duty can be collected as an allowance or replaced with a leave.
  • Attorney Coverage-: Detectives usually have attorneys that represent them, from personal divorce to writing of will, from on-duty incidents to real estate representations.
  • Fitness Centers and Facilities-: Detectives can make use of approved fitness centers, to keep fit, as required by their jobs.
  • Life Insurance-: Detectives are eligible for life insurance that is at low cost, since most times, their insurance plan covers that of a group.
  • Dental and Vision Coverage-: In the United States for example, The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) negotiates a dental and vision coverage that covers the rank and file.
  • Language Stipend Program-: Officers that take and, successfully pass a foreign language test, especially those that emphasize conversational skills, gets a stipend.
  • Rewarding and Satisfying-: Knowing that you are helping to keep the public safe, by keeping the criminals off the street is a rewarding, and satisfying feeling for any detective.

Factors Discouraging People from Becoming Detectives

  • Rigorous Employment Requirement-: A police detective has to go through stressful, physical and psychological requirements. Not all who want to become detectives might meet this physical requirement, especially as running long distances, and scaling over walls, is part of the physical requirement.
  • The psychological requirement has to do with the mental capacity, focus, observation, and attention to detail. This might be discouraging to those who want to become detectives.
  • Dangerous, High-Stress Job-: The job of a detective is dangerous, as it involves spying on criminals, and or blending in with criminals. A detective has to be as bland as possible, able to melt into the crowd. This might be discouraging to people, especially those with distinctive qualities.
  • High rate of on-the-job injury, and death-: The job of a detective comes with, high risks that could result in injuries that could be life threatening. There is also the possibility of death for a detective.
  • Slow job growth-: People love to join careers, where the job growth is high; but the job outlook for detectives is quite slow and will only a slight increase of 2% between 2012 and 2022.
  • Constant need to be on the alert for danger-: A detective, because of his job has to always remain alert, and be in constant alert for any danger, that might crop up either in the line of duty, or off it.
  • Rigorous training-: Detectives have to go through intense and rigorous training, so as to be proficient in their field. This includes, learning how to use fire arms, and protecting themselves during danger. This might act as a discouraging factor, to those that might want to become detectives.
  • First-hand experience on death and suffering-: Detectives have to view crime scenes with dead bodies; they sometimes have to attend autopsies too so as to get reports, and might happen upon cadavers. There are some who might not be able to withstand viewing dead bodies, and this factor might discourage them, from becoming detectives.
  • Working undercover-: This is not as fun as proclaimed in the movies; undercover detectives bring danger to their family, loved ones, and basically those around them; especially when they have to infiltrate, organized crime gangs, and drug gangs.

How Much Does Police Detectives Earn Monthly/Annually?

  • In the US, the average annual salary for police detectives, at state level was $79,870, with a mean hourly rate of $38.40 as at 2014.
  • In the UK, detectives earn an average of £30,810 per year as at 2015; same as police officers.
  • In Australia, the average annual salary for a police detective is AU$67,510
  • In Canada, police detectives earned an annual average of C$30,809

How Long Does It take to Become a Detective?

  • In the United States

A police officer should typically have post-secondary education. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that most police recruits have an undergraduate degree of 2 to 4 years. A federal investigator would need to earn a bachelor’s degree, and complete 3 years of related experience.

Candidates then have to fill in an application a pre-screening questionnaire. Write a test, pass a physical fitness test, pass a personality test, be interviewed and then pass a background check (felony, illegal drug use and poor driving record), drug testing and a lie detector test.

After acceptance, training at the Police Academy is for 12 to 14 weeks, where they learn to use firearms, first aid, emergency response and self-defense. And then the officer goes on a probationary period ranging from 1 to 2 years.

During this period of probation, the officer is to look for evidence. After, this period, the detective gains experience of 2 years.

  • In the UK

A prospective British police detective must complete 2 years as a uniformed officer before applying to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID).

  • In Australia

In New South Wales of Australia, it takes a period of 14 weeks before one can become even a probationary constable. New recruits also perform general duties, for 3 years before specializing as detectives.

  • In Canada

An aspiring detective has to earn a bachelor’s degree in criminal investigation related field. Then apply to a police force, where background checks will be done. Attend any province’s police academy, where you will be taught how to operate a gun, arrest criminals and learn about provincial and national laws.

After graduation, you will work as a fourth class constable, which involves general police work, like handling robberies, and handling robberies. You can then express the desire to become a detective to your superiors, from where you will be supervised. From there, you earn a promotion to become a detective constable, or detective sergeant.

Educational Requirements Needed to Become a Detective

  • In the United States

An intending detective needs to first attend a police academy, for 12 to 14 weeks, this is after an initial high school diploma, and or bachelor’s degree. After graduation from the police academy, the police officer undergoes job training, with the field training officer for a period that is being specified by the agency, and will then work on probation for 1 or 2 years.

  • In the UK

The police must pass the National Investigators’ Examination, so as to progress to the next stages in the Initial Crime Investigators Development Programme in order to qualify as a detective, since a formal education isn’t really required. For graduates, they would have completed 3 or 4 years of undergraduate degree.

  • In Australia

An intending detective has to do an advanced diploma, which takes 1 year. Before then, you would perform 3 years of specialized duties.

  • In Canada

An intending detective has to have earned a bachelor’s degree, in criminal investigation of 4 years. One can then join the police academy graduate and put in years of work, before becoming a detective.

The professional certifications are for detectives, who are interested in personal or career development, and they are:

  • In the United States, a detective can take the Certified Legal Investigators certification course. The course costs $200
  • In the United Kingdom, the institute of Professional Investigators offers an IPI Level 3 Professional Investigators’ Course.The IPI level 3 course costs £375
  • In Australia, one can take the Associate Degree in Policing practice. The course costs AU$9,984
  • In Canada, one can take the Professional Investigator Training. The training would cost C$250

Can a Detective Skill Be Acquired Online?

Yes, you can take an online course to become a police detective. Detectives work as police officers first, except those that are private investigators, and so would not necessarily need to learn the ropes as a detective.

While working as a police officer, especially as most police work might not allow intending detectives, attend traditional offline classes; one can take online courses, as they have a flexible structure and can accommodate the working hours of a police officer.

Skills Needed to Become a Successful Detective

  • Emotion Control: There are many issues, especially frustrating ones that might crop up during an investigation. The investigator is expected not to react, but keep his emotions in check especially when it relates to witnesses; as it could cause them to withhold, vital information from the investigator or detective.

Also, the detective must show a sense of empathy, to victims as this would lead to the victims loosening up around the detective.

  • Interview and Communication Skills: Every investigation hinges on interviews. The detective must be adept at interviewing clients, witnesses, and suspects. The questions must be worded carefully and clearly, so as to extract details. The detective should be trained at identifying lies and discrepancies, and ask questions that will unravel the lies.

The detective must also have, good communication skills, which entails, listening and understanding, what the other person is saying, as well as reading non-verbal clues.

  • Technical Skills and Knowledge: A detective should have, and be able to use equipment that will help make his job effective. Equipment varies depending on the job while some might need binoculars, others might need fingerprint analyzer.
  • Knowledge of the law: A detective should be able to know the laws, concerning a case he is working on. He should be able to separate moral ethics from the law, and know what evidence is admissible in court and what isn’t. For example; tapping a suspect’s phone is not an evidence that is admissible in court and the detective might face legal proceedings, if found out.
  • Moral Ethics and Honesty: A detective must remain above board, as regards ethics and honesty, especially whilst carrying out his various duties. Any detective found out to be unethical, loses credibility, and this might lead to a suspect walking free.
  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving: A detective must be able to look logically and critically at a case, so as to objectively solve it. Every detective must have a knack for problem solving, especially as they begin to piece together evidence from witnesses, and personal research work carried out.
  • Research Skills: The detective must carry out, background research on witnesses, victims, and suspects. There must also be ability, and available resources so as to carry out an effective research.
  • Writing: Being a detective involves a lot of paperwork, which includes reports and investigation documentation. The reports must be clear enough, especially as it could be read by anyone; supervisor, court, other colleagues etc.
  • Knowledge of other languages: Detectives that work in an ethnic diverse community need to be able to speak, and understand another language. Knowledge of other languages can help put victims, witnesses at ease, since people are more comfortable with those that can speak their language, or flush out suspects.
  • Psychology: Detectives need to have knowledge of psychology, to know the human behavioral pattern. This is so that, they can be able to discern the body languages of victims, witnesses and suspects to know when they are lying, without subjecting them to a lie detector.

Tips and Advice to Help Advance your Career as a Detective

  1. Goal Setting: Any serious professional, should be able to set goals for themselves. As a detective, what do you aim to become in 5, 10 or 20 years? Will you go private, or still continue being either a homicide detective, or change to narcotics? Will you stay local, or aim to be a federal investigator? What educational requirements and training, are required to achieve the set goal? Setting a goal, will help you work towards that goal
  2. Create a timeline: Creating a timeline means that after setting your goals, you have to create the time you want that goal achieved. So, if for instance, you want to be the best shot in 6 months, it means you will have to go for shooting range consistently, to practice and become a good shot.
  3. Keeping a file: A detective that wants to advance would need to keep a progress file, such as trainings, certifications, letters of achievement, and awards.
  4. Join an association: There are associations that are relevant to one’s profession. Try to join one as it will allow one to network and get trainings that will help in advancing.
  5. Assignments and challenges: Every detective is assigned a task on how you go about the task within a stated regulation, and excel is up to you. Also, challenges might crop up on how you rise effectively to the challenge, determines how you might likely advance.
  6. Police detectives are known as special agents who investigate and solve crimes. A detective in the US needs at least a high school diploma, while those in the UK can either be graduates or non-graduates. Aspiring detectives usually start out from police academy, become officers, and then work up the detective ladder.

In conclusion, it is worthy to note that police detectives are first trained as police officers, and have to put in work for few years as normal police officers, before taking extra training to become detectives.

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