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How To Become A Police Detective: Career & Salary Information

We've all seen the Batman movies and have all had a fondness for detective James Gordon. Whether it's his demeanor, his dedication to his job, his honesty, or the fact that he works quite closely with our favorite, black-suited hero, whenever we think of law enforcement and detectives, it is him that comes to mind.

Becoming a police detective takes experience and is usually the next step in the career of a police officer. Through performance, experience, and innate and developed skills, you can take the plunge of applying for a promotion and move from the ranks of a police officer to a police detective.

As a role higher up on the law enforcement food chain, let us delve into the workings and operations of a police detective and what steps you may pursue to obtain this role.

What Is A Police Detective?

Police detectives play an integral role in law enforcement. Essentially, when a crime is committed, it is the role of the police detective to delve into all the evidence and findings of the police officers on the scene, the crime scene technicians, and the crime scene photographers to start compiling a case.

As investigators, they aim to apprehend the criminal who committed the crime.

Police detectives usually acquire their expertise through on-the-job training. It can often be seen that detectives who have been in the field for many years have the sought-after knowledge to impart to newer detectives.

What Does A Police Detective Do?

When you think of a detective investigating a case, the most elaborate murder cases come to mind. However, detectives investigate a wide array of crimes that are most definitely not limited to homicide.

While police officers respond to different crimes and are called to the scene for anything between robbery, theft, and murder, detectives usually specialize in a specific field. This means that detectives will focus on narcotics, homicide, robbery, or other crimes.

Detectives are not first responders on a case. They are, however, the person to which all information about the case is given. They are handed a case file that has been compiled containing witness information and crime scene details.

While they are not first responders, detectives are usually on the crime scene as soon as it occurs. A good detective knows that you must immerse yourself in the occurrences to get the best insight into how things occurred.

Detectives usually play an active role in a criminal case rather than passively sitting in an office chair waiting for outcomes to be revealed.

The case the detective has built will either make or break a court judgment, and they play a paramount role in criminal justice. They carry the case until it is either dropped or the case is solved.

Once the evidence has been compiled, the detective will hand over the case file to the prosecutor, who will take the case to court for justice to be served. But the responsibility of achieving justice correctly is a weight that is heavy on the shoulders of a detective.

Being a police detective requires complete objectivity and ensuring that all avenues have been exhausted before deciding or suggesting that a particular person is guilty or involved in a certain crime.

It has been seen so often that people have been incarcerated even though they are innocent of a crime. There have even been instances where criminals have walked free because of some details falling through the cracks.

One can easily understand the stress and pressure placed on a detective to ensure that the ends of justice are achieved without wrongly implicating anyone.

The role of a police detective would even be to set up surveillance and keep an eye on possible suspects. Detectives are highly sought after in state and federal and private fields. Some private investigators are hired for several purposes, and pursuing growth in the industry could even find you in a position within the FBI.

Steps To Become A Police Detective

Becoming a police detective is not a standalone role that one can pursue. It is a role you would pursue after fulfilling the minimum requirements and meeting the performance expectations in a role you have held as a police officer. For that reason, becoming a police detective might look a lot like pursuing a career as a police officer.

But let us look at these steps from the perspective of pursuing a career as a police detective.

Step One: Start At The Beginning

To become a police detective, you would need to start with being a police officer. This begins with meeting certain requirements, such as being over the age of 18 or 21, depending on your state requirements, having no criminal records, and having a valid driver's license at the most basic level.

Step Two: Get Qualified

Before applying or assuming a role as a police officer, you would need to obtain an associate degree or a bachelor's degree in criminal justice or any related field.

For entry-level roles, higher education is not necessarily required. However, since we are looking at pursuing the higher-level role of a police detective, holding a degree will make you a better-suited candidate for the role, and your chances of career growth prospects are far higher.

Step Three: Join The Police Force

To successfully fulfill the requirements of becoming a police officer, you would need to obtain training from a police academy. Once you have this under your belt, you will be eligible to apply for a role of a police officer, provided you have met all state requirements. You will be sworn in, and then your duty begins.

Step Four: Pursue Career Growth

Once you are in the role of a police officer, you may decide to further your career, and while becoming a police detective is not the only career growth prospect, for the purpose of this article, it is what we will be focusing on.

Being in the role of a police officer, you would have been exposed to various roles within the criminal justice system. If you find that the roles of detectives hold a specific appeal for you, you can begin researching the field, finding out what is needed, and finding out if it is suited to who you are as a person. You may even find yourself inclined to follow specific career mentors.

By this point, you would have achieved experience and met all the minimum requirements not only for a police officer but even for a police detective. You will then need to take the National Detective/Investigative Test (NDIT), and if you are successful, you will be officially certified, and you can begin applying for detective positions within the police force.

What Degree Do You Need To Be A Police Detective?

To be a police detective, the minimum education requirements would be an associate degree or a bachelor's degree in criminal justice.

Whether you are entering law enforcement from an entry-level role in the hopes of pursuing a career as a detective, or whether it is something you decide to pursue once you are already fulfilling a role within law enforcement, a way of guaranteeing your success and making yourself a viable candidate would be to pursue your higher education.

What Is The Average Salary For A Police Detective?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for detectives and criminal investigators was $83,640 as of May 2021.

What Makes A Good Police Detective?

Police detectives are required by nature to be inquisitive. They need to know what questions to ask to get the answers they are looking for. This frequently means thinking outside the box and exploring avenues that others may not even consider.

Additionally, closing a case can take months or years to complete. Detectives need to have patience and the ability to meticulously convey their thoughts and ideas just in case others may need to pick up where they have left off.

Empathy and understanding will also get you far as a detective as you will communicate and work with a wide array of people.


What Is The Difference Between A Police Officer And A Police Detective?

Police detectives hold a higher rank than police officers, and being a police officer is required before one can pursue a role as a detective or investigator.

Can I Be A Detective Without Being A Police Officer?

Unfortunately, there is no way of shimmying past the role and duties of a police officer to become a detective. You must fulfill the requirements of being a police officer to be a detective.

Even if you knew from a young age that you always wanted to be a police detective and have dedicated your life towards fulfilling the role as a detective, consider being a police officer as a step in the right direction towards your end goal.

What Education Is Needed To Become A Police Detective?

Aside from a high school diploma or a GED, a minimum requirement of an associate's or bachelor's degree in criminal justice is required for you to be successfully considered for a role as a detective.

How Long Does It Take To Become A Police Detective?

Pursuing the career of a detective is considered pursuing an advanced role. This means that it may take longer to achieve than other roles. From education, training, and fulfilling duties as a police officer, it may take around 10 or more years to find yourself in the role of a detective.


Although greatly glamorized on television, being a police detective is anything but glamorous. It requires hard work and great responsibility as the fate of another's life will be based on the evidence you have gathered and analyzed.

It is a role that should not be taken lightly, but given the right expertise and training, you can find yourself on the road to success.

find criminal justice degrees near you

find criminal justice degrees near you