When we hear the word “detective,” famous names like Sherlock Holmes or Miss Marple wind up in our heads. However, those are fictional characters but wouldn’t it be great to be just like them. So be a detective like them.
It usually is most children’s dream job. But in reality, being a detective is a lot different from how we see it on TV. It requires a great amount of patience and a driving willingness. In addition to being faced with dangerous situations that you barely escape with your life, some cases may even take months or even years to solve, even when being provided with all the evidence needed.
Regardless, having a career as a detective can be rewarding, and after the successful completion of each case, a deep sense of satisfaction is your greatest reward.
One thing to consider is that there is a huge difference between police detectives and private investigators (PIs), even though their work is similar. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2021), a detective is a rank or a level of promotion awarded to police detectives who have gained investigative experience through their work in law enforcement.
To even be promoted, officers will have to take an exam/test or be evaluated based on the services they rendered during their stay in the field.
How Long Does It Take To Become A Detective
The duration of becoming a detective varies, but generally, it takes around 5 to 8 years to get a promotion from being a police officer to a detective. On becoming a detective, paths may vary, which is exactly what we will talk about below.
Steps To Take To Become A Successful Detective
You can take many different paths to become a detective or a private investigator (PI). Although, all paths need a combination of patience and determination. Below are the steps one can take to become a detective.
Get a high school degree (or a GED)
The first step to achieving this dream is getting a high school degree (or a GED). An average day for a detective requires basic knowledge of mathematical calculations and general problem-solving. Although most employers and institutes demand a higher education, most roles require just a high school degree.
During this time, most devoted students may decide to apply for volunteer opportunities in civic organizations, federal agencies, and their local police force to get firsthand experience in the field. Some organizations have even provided programs for high schoolers.
For example, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) has created a weeklong program which they named the “Future Agents in Training (FAIT)” for aspiring detectives who are still in high school. Also, the Pathways Internship Program was organized by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) for high school students.
Get a college degree.
Getting a college degree makes you one step closer to achieving your dream. A degree in sociology, criminal justice, criminology, or any other related field can ease your chances of getting into a police academy.
Although one can enter a police academy directly, most academies demand a college degree of about two to four years minimum. Research made by the Rasmussen College’s School of Justice Studies reports that most related departments require detectives with at least two to four years of college studies. Prospective detectives may then apply for a college degree that suits their field or line of work.
Enrolling in a police academy
The next step to take is just this. Enrollment into a police academy. This option is for those who wish to become police detectives (a far more lucrative option than private investigators or PI). Here, aspiring detectives can gain the investigative experience they get based in the field.
Although the requirements may vary based on region or department, candidates must be at least 18 years of age, have some college experience, have a personal driving license, and have no felony convictions. Police academy programs generally take six to eight months to complete.
A few of their programs include specialized training in the use of firearms, self-defense, CPR and first aid administration, report writing, physical fitness, patrol procedures, and emergency response.
After the academy training, aspiring detectives are advised to participate in advanced training in investigative units to build their résumés. They can then go into various investigation branches such as surveillance, computer crimes, homicide, financial crimes, fraud, and missing people.
After graduating from a police academy, students begin climbing up the career ladder by becoming police officers. They can then begin working at least 40 hours per week, which can be through nights, weekends, and even holidays.
Their main duty is to maintain public order; however, they may be assigned to deal with various crimes such as murder, fraud, or drugs. Here they continue to gain experience for about four to five years.
With the years of service on their résumé, they will be qualified to take a promotion exam. There are many sources for these exams, most of which are not concerned with the department.
However, all exams comprise three different subject areas; report writing, police investigative procedures, and laws relating to police work. When the exam is successfully concluded, an applicant can then earn their rank as a detective.
Take a test and get professionally certified
There are a lot of qualifications available for both private and police detectives. The National Detective/Investigative Test (NDIT) is available for those with years of investigative experience in law enforcement.
It comprises a 75-question exam that measures a candidate’s knowledge in criminal investigations, investigative interviewing, and cases major court cases, as well as their willingness to become a detective or investigator.
Other examples include the Police Detective (PDT) 200 Series, which comprises a 100-question test that evaluates law enforcement personnels’ knowledge in police investigative procedures, laws related to police work, and how to complete reports.
The certified legal investigator (CLI) certification is provided by the National Association of Legal Investigators (NALI). To qualify, candidates must have full-time experience of at least five years, complete a research paper of a thousand words on investigations and pass an exam with a minimum score of 70 percent.
A certified legal investigator (CLI’s) must complete 50 hours of Continuing Education (CE) every three years to maintain the certificate. It all depends on your field of study.
How To Become A Detective Without Being A Police Officer
Most people prefer being a detective without going through the path of being a police officer. Well, there’s a solution to that as you can always become a Private Investigator (PI). Private investigators are detectives that work for public clients rather than for law enforcement agencies.
The main difference between a police detective and a PI is that private investigators don’t get involved in major cases like murder or homicide, as that is left for law agencies. Instead, they deal with little cases such as missing persons, spying on unfaithful spouses to gather divorce evidence, or exposing insurance fraud.
The job of a PI is less stressful than that of a police detective and can be a rewarding choice for those who want to venture into it.
How Hard Is It To Become A Detective
For those asking how hard is it to become a detective, it isn’t so hard. But to earn a good reputation while keeping a clear and calm mind while on the job, there are a few skills which one will need to develop to cope well during certain situations. A few are detailed below;
Finding solutions to problems
A successful detective should be a natural problem solver or develop the skill as it is a crucial part of the investigative process. A detective must ascertain possible reasons for committing a crime and the how’s and why’s of committing such crime.
Patience is an essential key in our everyday life. From learning to walk to solving critical cases, patience is required. A successful detective must apply patience in every case. Cases can be unpredictable. Some can be solved in a few hours, while others require months or even years to crack. Yet, patience is the only way to get through it.
Solving cases requires using the evidence or material at hand to find clues. Being resourceful can help you go a long way.
Good communication skills
Effective communication can help get clues from victims, witnesses, or suspected criminals. You can discover clues by asking the right questions and noting nonverbal communication behaviors or cues.
Paying attention to detail
Every good detective must pay close attention to every little detail, as no evidence in a crime scene is too small. You can only complete a case by combining all evidence to get the real picture.
How Much Do Detectives Make
According to the BLS (Bureau of Labour Statistics), a report made in May 2016 shows that police detectives earn an average yearly pay of $81,490, and the median pay is $78,120 per annum. Most police investigators earned between $55,180 and $103,330 a year.