How Do You Become a Detective?

Detectives, sometimes referred to as investigators, typically work with law enforcement agencies. They are called in for specific situations to collect evidence and analyze the facts in criminal cases. A detective’s duties generally include taking part in arrests, observing potential suspects, interviewing suspects and witnesses and examining all records involved with a case.

Steps to Becoming a Detective

Detectives usually start their careers off as police officers. While a high school diploma or GED may be all that’s required for some positions, most agencies require a college degree in law enforcement, criminal justice or a related field. Both bachelor’s and associate’s programs are available for aspiring detectives, and students can expect to take courses in criminal procedure, forensic science, judicial function, human relations, criminology and criminal law. In addition, students may also consider taking a foreign language course. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, becoming proficient in a language can be beneficial for future detectives, particularly in urban surroundings.


Individuals wishing to be a detective must be a U.S. citizen and at least 21 years of age in order to be eligible to receiving training for a career as a police officer. He or she may also be required to pass polygraph and drug tests. Police recruits must often pass physical and written tests and complete training academy programs before starting to serve as officers. Federal and state agencies as well as individual police departments offer these programs. They include both physical training and classroom education in topics such as first aid, traffic control, self-defense and firearm training.

Fitness and Mental Health

Detectives must maintain excellent mental and physical health by engaging in routine fitness training and exercise. Doing so better equips them for handling stress and danger. Also, aspiring detectives can keep their minds sharp by brushing up on new technology and techniques. In order to do their jobs, detectives must be very observant and perceptive since the ability to pay attention to detail is critical. Individuals can cultivate these skills while in the field by paying close attention to accidents and crime scenes and learning how to accurately document these details in reports.

Job Growth

Since detectives are usually chosen from existing police officers, aspiring detectives should consider expressing their interest to their superior officers who can keep them in mind for future promotions. Many police officers must serve at least three years at their current positions before becoming eligible for a detective position at an agency. Promotion within agencies is typically based on an individual’s performance evaluation as a police officer, his or her scores on agency exams and the individual’s position on a promotion list. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that growth is expected to grow slower than the average for all occupations, but individuals with military training and more experience will have better professional prospects.

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Potential detectives must also be comfortable using polygraphs, handcuffs and surveillance and fingerprinting equipment. In addition, experience with software for computer-aided composite drawing, crime information databases and crime scene management is helpful. Combining an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice with real-world field experience, those aspiring to become a detective can expect start as a police officer before moving into the role of detective.