In police organizations, detectives are among the most respected members of the department. These veteran officers conduct the investigations that result in the identification and arrest of criminal perpetrators. They employ the latest forensic science and investigative technologies to reconstruct crimes, combined with traditional police work like witness questioning, record searches and interrogations.
Police detectives initially join the organization as uniformed officers. Only after several years of diligent service on patrol are they permitted to apply for a detective position. In order to obtain this select rank, candidates must pass the detective’s exam, provide evidence of superior police skills, and produce recommendations from supervisors.
Education Requirements for Detectives
Most jurisdictions only require applicants interested in joining the force as uniformed officers to have a high school diploma, but professionals who wish to improve their chances for earning the rank of detective are strongly encouraged to obtain at least an associate’s degree and preferably a bachelor’s degree. Many detectives further improve their qualifications and preparedness by seeking an advanced degree in a law enforcement discipline like criminal justice, law enforcement administration or forensic psychology.
Prospective police officers can find certification programs at state police academies or independent training facilities. State authorized programs are usually very similar to the training provided to new recruits, and many private programs model their curricula on police academies. The physical and academic instruction provided can vastly improve the likelihood of selection for a police job and also help prepare recruits for the strenuous challenges to be faced in the police academy.
The most critical component for promotion to detective is passing the detective’s exam. While some departments offer preparatory courses, others rely on officers acquiring the requisite knowledge through on the job experience or independent learning. The most common way to prepare for these exams is to take courses at the collegiate or post-graduate level. Not all courses may assist in preparing for the exam so it is important to learn what knowledge will be tested.
Detective Skills and Job Description
The primary role of a detective is to conduct an investigation into a crime so as to determine the major elements. These include the motive for the crime, the method utilized, and the perpetrator. In order to perform these tasks effectively, detectives must be able to perform the following responsibilities:
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- Utilize the latest investigative technology including DNA matching, digital forensics, and GPS tracking
- Collaborate with other members of the department as well as law enforcement officials at other levels of government including state and federal
- Question witnesses, bystanders and others who may have knowledge of the crime
- Research the criminal histories and backgrounds of suspects so as to identify links to a crime
- Write thorough and detailed reports throughout the investigation so as to update superiors and provide key details to court officials
- Provide information to media and news outlets to obtain assistance from the public or keep potential victims from unnecessary risk
- Testify during trials and other legal proceedings
Detectives in smaller organizations may work in a wide variety of cases. Larger police forces may assign detectives to divisions like homicide, narcotics or financial crimes. Detectives within these divisions should acquire comprehensive knowledge of laws pertaining to their assigned cases. Detectives who wish to advance their careers to the upper echelons of the police hierarchy are usually encouraged to work in several divisions so they can broaden their expertise.
Qualifications for Joining the Force – the First Step to Becoming a Detective
In order to become a police detective, candidates must first join the department as a uniformed officer. Most police organizations require that applicants possess the following qualifications.
- United States citizenship
- High school graduate
- At least 18 years of age
- Possess a valid driver’s license
- No felony convictions
- Excellent physical condition
- Moral character
The application process to become a police officer may take considerable time and effort. Candidates must successfully pass a written exam which may assess basic reading and math skills, as well as a physical fitness test which evaluates strength, stamina and dexterity. Candidates then must interview with senior officers and pass a background check. Many organizations also require passage of a polygraph exam. Medical and psychological evaluations are also conducted. Recruits must then complete a rigorous training program at the police academy.