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Can You Become a Homicide Detective Without Being a Cop?

No, you cannot become a homicide detective without being a cop. The only way to become a homicide detective is to work as a police officer, pass a test, and earn a promotion to detective through the department.

However, if you intend to pursue a career as a detective without going through the police academy and working as an officer first, you can become a private investigator or PI.

Private investigators are also considered detectives, but they work for their own clients not law enforcement agencies. Their work doesn’t normally involve solving major crimes such as homicides, as that is the responsibility of law enforcement.

Instead, these investigators can help find missing people, gather evidence of spousal infidelity in divorce cases, and expose insurance fraud.

They may interview witnesses to a crime to gather information for the prosecution or the defense in a case. Other investigators provide bodyguard services and perform background checks. Have it in mind that most states mandate all private detectives to have a license, and some require additional licensing for private investigators who wish to carry a firearm or provide bodyguard services.

The requirements for a PI license tend to vary in every state. The state of New York, for instance, mandates private detectives to be at least 25 years old, pass a test, pay the licensing fees, and have three years or more of work experience.

Note that although you can become a private investigator without first working as a police officer, many PIs are former police officers — and some states give preference to police officers in their rules for licensure. For example, New York State will grant a PI license to a police officer with 20 or more years’ experience, even if the applicant has no investigatory experience.

All other applicants are expected to possess at least three years’ experience as an investigator before applying for a license. You can obtain this experience by working for a licensed investigator.

Nonetheless, if you’re eager to become a licensed detective, most states expect you to work for one first. Private investigators sometimes hire assistants to perform some of their duties and learn the business in the process. Note that most private detective agencies will teach you how to do the work themselves, but it may still be an advantage to have a college degree with some coursework in criminology, law, or police science.

Other types of investigative work, such as insurance fraud investigation, may also count as relevant work experience when applying for a PI license, depending on the laws in your state.

How to Become a Homicide Detective

Generally, a homicide detective spends time working as a police officer first and then moves up into investigator roles. Anyone interested in investigating murders may then specialize in that area.

Finding out how to be a homicide detective requires research into specific state requirements. Here are few steps to take note of when looking to become a murder Detective.

  1. Acquire the Required Education

First and foremost, homicide detective education requirements vary greatly among states, agencies, and more. Indeed, a good number of detectives work as police officers before working their way up to detective, and therefore, education requirements may range from a high school diploma to a bachelor’s degree.

Nonetheless, the Most preferred level of schooling for homicide detectives is typically a bachelor’s degree, but individuals may begin with police certification programs or online courses for police officers before going on to earn their associate’s or bachelor’s degrees.

Note that an aspiring detective will more or less want to pursue a bachelor’s degree in an area like criminal justice or a related field. These degree programs are available in online formats.

  1. Meet Homicide Detective Requirements

Have it in mind that the requirements to become a homicide detective are generally the same as those for a police officer. Applicants are expected to meet these qualifications before they apply for a job. Requirements include:

  • Being 21 years of age or older
  • Being a US citizen
  • Having no prior felony convictions
  • Passing a drug test
  • Meeting physical standards
  • Meeting personal standards
  1. Complete Homicide Detective Training

After they must have been employed, aspiring detectives and police officers are expected to attend and pass their agency’s training academy. During academy training, students may learn skills like:

  • Firearm use
  • Emergency response
  • Patrol
  • First-aid
  • Self-defense
  1. Acquire Experience

After graduating from a police academy, aspiring detectives will have to work as officers for a few years before being promoted to detective. Have it in mind that officers may begin working in their agency’s homicide department and work closely with experienced officers to start acquiring the required skills for investigating homicides. Some of these skills may include:

  • Handling suspects
  • Assessing murder scenes
  • Analyzing evidence
  • Documenting case details
  1. Seek Other Necessary Skills

Throughout the process of becoming a homicide detective, it is also very necessary to acquire and/or further develop skills like communication, leadership, problem-solving, and critical thinking. Homicide detectives are expected to be detail-oriented as they work cases, are expected to follow ethical practices and use good judgment.

Aside from the physical demands of the job, these detectives also have to show empathy as they work closely with the families of victims. They need to have excellent interpersonal and communication skills, as well as an extensive understanding of the law.

  1. Understand all Personality Requirements

Have it in mind that the requirements for becoming a homicide detective does not clearly limit this career to one personality type, but personality is a major part of this job. Working on homicide cases can be extremely psychologically challenging.

Homicide detectives are expected to deal with graphic content and face the reality of death on a regular basis, including violent deaths. Understanding this fully is quite imperative for anyone considering a career as a homicide detective.


A career as a homicide detective offers strong salary potential, and detectives of all types can expect to earn a median annual salary of $81,920.

However, note that this work can be challenging and physically dangerous, but detectives also enjoy generous benefits and the ability to retire at a far younger age than most other career paths. Homicide detectives may work irregular schedules due to the unique needs of law enforcement. Also note that all detectives work full time, and overtime hours are very common.

Detectives may need to be on call for shifts at any time, given that criminal activities rarely follow a conventional schedule. Certain tasks such as conducting surveillance of suspects, may need to take place at irregular hours.