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Types of Police Detectives: Criminal Justice Career Options

Society often takes advantage of the fact that help is always so readily available to them through law enforcement. We also often forget that many facets and divisions within law enforcement need to work together to help keep us safe and enforce the law.

It is for that reason that there are many different types of detectives.

Detectives have worked as law enforcement officers and have moved up in ranks to the position of detective. For every division of crime, there is a detective that aims to seek justice and put an end to the crime.

Let us look at the myriad of available detective roles and how you could pursue these.

What Is A Police Detective?

Police detectives work in the role of police officers, and with their keen insight and the skills they have garnered over years of active duty, they become eligible to pursue the higher role of a detective.

Detectives investigate all crime evidence to find and apprehend the criminal who has committed the crime. Their work requires them to have high levels of curiosity and innate and acquired skills to meet the swift end of justice.

Detectives, also known as investigators, play a very hands-on role during investigations, and hardly any of their duties are performed from behind a desk. Being active in the field means they actively pursue criminals and place themselves in extremely dangerous positions.

There are numerous specialties that a detective can pursue in their career path. When crimes seem to thrive, it is best to have detectives with dedicated duties and responsibilities as they can cover more ground in ensuring that the crime related to their specific field is mitigated.

For example, having one person trying to cover the grounds for narcotics and homicide is bound to have their hands full. However, having a detective dedicated to both facets of law enforcement will not only prevent either crime from rising but will also allow the detectives to keep these particular types of crime in check.

If detectives face multiple cases or big cases, it will be seen that multiple detectives will work together in a team to solve the case.

Private And Public Detectives

At the most fundamental level, those who pursue careers as investigators or detectives can either pursue a role as a private investigator or as a public investigator. Public investigators usually work for government forces, and they work for law enforcement.

Private investigators, on the other hand, work either for themselves or private investigative agencies and are usually hired by corporations or individuals to carry out various tasks.

Computer/Cyber Crime Detective

The world has become smaller thanks to the digital sphere that has been propelled into fame and popularity since its inception. There is rarely anything in this world that doesn't happen online or in the digital space.

While the internet and technology have placed the world at our fingertips, it has created a new space for criminals to bring their vicious intent and commit crimes in the cyber sphere.

From fraud to virtual theft, and even people using the space to target vulnerable individuals such as children, cyberspaces have become a focus for law enforcement.

Therefore, computer detectives take the lead on any crimes involving the digital space. They investigate fraud, internet scams, and intellectual property infringements, and they assess software and programs to ensure they are up to legal standards.

Being a cyber detective requires a high aptitude for computer knowledge, and as part of their training, cyber detectives are required to complete computer-specific training.

Narcotics Detective

The reality of drug-related crimes is scary and ever-present, but it is one with which we all live daily.

With drugs running rampant in communities, specialized forces to mitigate these crimes were extremely needed. This led to the establishment of narcotics units among law enforcement and narcotics detectives.

Narcotics detectives are put in place to work on and solve any and all drug-related crimes. They must investigate all manufacturing, distribution, sale, and use of illegal narcotics. Over and above this, they often find themselves placed in high-risk situations, going undercover to infiltrate drug rings.

They work within all governmental spheres and play a critical role in protecting communities from drugs.

Homicide Detective

When we think of the worse possible crime to exist, the first thing that springs to mind is murder. How heartbreaking it is for one human being to think they have any right or power to take the life of another.

It is for this reason that the designated field of homicide detectives exists. Homicide detectives have the unique role of investigating murder crimes where there is reason to believe that death did not occur naturally.

They usually investigate the crime scene in-depth, conduct witness interviews, compile all case details, and work towards a common goal – finding and apprehending the criminal – with other law enforcement agents.

Forensic Detectives

These are the detectives who can see things that ordinary folk would miss. They can analyze a crime scene, both physically and visually, and scientifically, to determine how a crime occurred.

Forensic detectives know about biology, science, and chemistry and conduct extensive evidence testing to determine how a crime may have occurred. They do lab testing and compile detailed reports that hold a play-by-play of how the evidence says events occurred.

When one thinks of a forensic detective, a scene from CSI comes to mind.

Cold Case/Missing Persons Detective

Nothing is worse than an unsolved case, whether a detective or a civilian. This usually means that a criminal is still at large or that a victim's family has no closure. When there are unsolved cases, whether they are homicide cases or missing persons cases, there is a field within law enforcement dedicated solely to working on unsolved cases.

This usually means picking up from where others have left off; in the past, investigative technology wasn't at the current level. It means that recently, many unsolved cases are coming to light and providing closure to families who never would forget their loved ones.

Undercover Detectives

While many detectives may be required to work undercover, some are specifically trained in the art of blending in, whether on a short-term or a long-term basis.

It is often found in narcotics that detectives may choose to go undercover and play the long game in investigating drug rings and sussing out the guilty parties or the ring leaders.

Undercover detectives often find themselves in dangerous surroundings, risking it all to solve a case. If their true identity is revealed, it can be detrimental to solving the case, and even worse, it can put their lives in danger.


What Is The Highest Paid Detective?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), police and detectives earn a median annual salary of $66,020, with the highest 10% earning up to $105,540.

The greater the skills, experience, and education level of a detective, the more likely they are to earn a higher salary. However, the BLS also states that federal government detectives are paid more than state or local government detectives earning a median annual salary of $93,970.

Are There Different Levels Of Detectives?

Within law enforcement, there are different levels of detectives, with some being in a supervisor's role and placed in charge of overseeing other detectives.

Also, in cases where multiple detectives are working on a single case, there will be a single detective heading the entire operation.

What Kind Of Person Is A Detective?

By nature, they need to be curious, resourceful, and critical thinking. They would need to be able to see things that most would be oblivious to, they need to be understanding and empathetic, and most importantly, they would need to be relentless.

They also need strong communication skills to communicate with other law enforcement agents, the courts, victims, witnesses, and guilty parties.

How Stressful Is Being A Detective?

The stress can be extreme when you have so many people and communities looking at you for answers. In many cases, a detective's job is so stressful that they are medically required to take time off work.

But while it is extremely stressful, closing a case, finding justice, and giving a victim and their families closure can be extremely fulfilling.


There is no shortage of options to choose from if you are hoping to pursue the role of a detective. With a combination of your personality and what you find to be most fascinating, you can find yourself drawn to various fields within law enforcement.

Whichever path is followed, it is guaranteed that you will find some fulfillment in the role of a detective.

find criminal justice degrees near you

find criminal justice degrees near you