According to the latest figures published by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 107,890 “Detectives and Criminal Investigators” were working in the United States in 2021. In 2020, this figure was 105,890. There are different types of detectives, and it is up to you the kind of detective you want to become.

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Job Duties of a Detective

A detective has to perform the following main duties:

  • Investigate crimes.
  • Investigate people of interest.
  • Coordinate with other law enforcement agencies to apprehend criminals.
  • Make a strong case for trial.
  • Give testimonies in court.
  • Work undercover for different assignments.
  • Conduct surveillance.

How to Become a Police Detective ?

Before you gather information on how to become a police detective, you must first know what they do.

What do Police Detectives do – Police detectives are either uniformed or perform their duties in plainclothes. They make arrests, conduct raids, observe suspicious activities and individuals, examine records, conduct interviews and investigate cases. These professionals usually work on criminal, fraud and missing person’s cases. Detectives are assigned cases on rotation basis. A case is assigned to a police detective till an arrest is made, trial is completed or the case is closed for any number of reasons.

Educational requirements to Become a Detective – To be considered for appointment, police detectives must at least have a high school diploma or a GED. However, nowadays, more and more police departments and federal agencies are looking for applicants with post-high school qualifications such as college credits or degrees in criminal justice.

Police officers are also encouraged to pursue college-level studies in law enforcement and particularly in criminal justice. Many police departments across the country offer financial assistance to employees to complete their education. With an ever expanding diverse landscape, college level education in foreign languages can also come in handy for police officers looking to move up to a detective’s position.

Is a career as a detective really for me?
How to Become Detective

Training to Become a Detective –You cannot be hired as a police detective straight out of the academy. Police officers need to pass a battery of theoretical exams to be promoted as police detectives.

All police officers begin their career by attending a training academy. The duration will vary, but on the whole all police training academies offer curriculum in theory and hands-on training. Courses on constitutional law, local and state laws, police ethics and civil rights are offered in-class. As far as hands on training goes, it includes firearm use, traffic control, patrol, emergency response, first aid and self-defense.

To become a police officer, the following requirements must be met.

Requirements to Become a Detective::

  • Must be a US citizen
  • Must be at least 21 years of age
  • Have a valid driver´s license
  • Never been convicted of a felony
  • High school diploma/60 college credits/2-years of military experience with an honorable discharge
  • Pass background and character investigation, physical agility exam, psychological tests, and medical exam
  • Applicant may need to be a resident of the state they´re applying in

Under what conditions do Police Detectives Work?

The working conditions of a Police detective depends on the crimes or infractions they investigate. Criminal investigations such homicide, burglaries, thefts and missing person’s cases require detectives to visit crime scenes which can be disturbing, emotionally distressing and sometimes physically threatening.

Licenses –This is another big difference between a police detective and a private detective; the latter needs to be licensed. Almost all the states require such professionals to be licensed. State requirements for private investigator licensure will vary and therefore you should check with Professional Investigator Magazine for your state’s requirements. If you carry a handgun, you may need to meet further requirements. Certifications are however not required in this career, however certifications can improve your chances of employment.

What is the work schedule like?

A private detective’s work is grueling, since it involves working odd hours, nights, weekends and holidays. This is also an all-weather job where detectives are required to work rain or shine, night or day.

What Skills should you have to become a Detective?

Irrespective of the nature of your employment, all good detectives possess the following qualities and skills:

  • Good judgment & Leadership skills
  • Communication skills
  • Physical strength & stamina
  • Perceptiveness
  • Resourcefulness
  • Inquisitiveness
  • Analytical Skills

If you possess these, then perhaps a detective’s career is for you.

How Much Police Detective Can Make?

As per the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Detective and Criminal Investigators earned a mean annual income of $90,370 as mean annual income in 2021.

Below is a list of the highest paying US states for detectives and criminal investigators:

State Annual Mean Wage
Alaska $126,810
District of Columbia $123,760
Maryland $115,660
Hawaii $111,130
Washington $108,550

Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Which investigator should you become?

Both careers have their pros and cons. Unlike police detectives, private detectives could be self-employed, be their own boss, but they make less than the police detectives. Police detectives, on the other hand, may earn more, but their freedom to choose a case is limited as tasks are assigned to them. All in all, both careers require strong decision making and analytical skills, hard work and dedication.

Career Outlook for Detective in the US

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Detectives and Criminal Investigators will face a -1% decline in employment opportunities between 2021 and 2031. Below are the top five US states for the highest employment level for this occupation in 2021.

State Employment
Texas 16,540
California 11,510
New York 10,190
Florida 6,330
Arizona 5,370

Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Frequently Asked Questions:



Q: How to Become a Detective in California?


Ans: To become a detective in California, you will need to follow these steps:
1- Fulfill the Education/Qualification Requirements
These requirements would depend on the city in California you reside in. You may become a part of the Los Angeles Police Department, the San Francisco Police Department or the San Diego Police Department, etc. The requirements would be on the following lines:

  • Must have a high school diploma
  • Must be at least 21 years old
  • Must be a US citizen

2- Apply and Take the Test
On the website for your desired city’s department, you will find job listings. Fill out the relevant applications and submit it in the required format (online or printed). You will then be required to take a written test with several essay questions.

3- Clear the background test and the physical abilities test
4- Sit for the interview
5- Clear the medical evaluation
6- Get your certification and appointment letter
7- Begin training


Q: How Long Does it Take to become a detective in California?


Ans: To become a detective in California, you will first need to become a police officer in the state. This will require around six months of training. To get promoted to the level of a detective, officers will typically be required to get at least four to five years of experience. In some cases, a college degree may be allowed to substitute for part of the experience requirements.


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Frequently Ask Question

Question: Can you be a detective without being a police officer?

Answer: No, you cannot be a detective without being a police officer. To become a detective, you will have to join the police force as a detective, clear a test, and then earn a promotion to the rank of a detective. However, if you are looking for information on how to become a detective, without joining the police force, you can become a private investigator (PI).