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How to Become a Detective

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Detectives are experienced police officers who investigate crimes, collect and secure evidence, interview witnesses, obtain warrants and arrest suspects. They must also report on their activities and testify in court. Detectives typically work shifts, although they may also be on call. A detective needs good communication skills, empathy and sound judgment. They must be perceptive, especially in dealing with members of the public, and should be physically strong enough to apprehend suspects. The average annual salary for detectives was $79,030 in 2013, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Basic Education and Training

To become a detective, you must first become a police officer. Educational qualifications differ according to the state or municipality, but a high school diploma is the minimum requirement, according to the BLS. In some cases, an associate degree or higher may be required. A GED may be acceptable in lieu of a high school diploma. Whatever their educational background, police officers complete a period of training at the relevant police academy. Large police departments may have their own academy, or you may attend a state or regional academy. Training includes classroom instruction on topics such as civil rights, constitutional, state and local laws, ethics, use of firearms, self-defense and emergency response/first aid.

Other Requirements

You must be a U.S. citizen to become a detective, according to the BLS. The usual age requirement is 21 years or older. A valid driver’s license is required. Police officers must meet minimum physical qualifications and may need to pass medical, physical and written examinations. Some organizations prefer candidates who have military experience or speak another language. Multiple interviews are typically required and you may need to pass a lie detector test. Background investigations include checks for felony convictions.

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The Next Steps

Each police department may have specific requirements to advance to the position of detective. After you gain experience, you may be eligible to apply to become a detective. You may need to pass competitive written exams. In some organizations, you must have a certain number of years of experience or a degree in law enforcement or a relevant field such as psychology. The BLS notes that those with a bachelor’s degree and law enforcement or military service will have the best opportunities for advancement, especially if they speak a second language.

Important Skills and Knowledge

In addition to training in law enforcement, you'll need some other skills to become a detective. For example, you will need computer skills. Documentation and case reports are done on computers, and you may need to search crime databases. You should also have some understanding of forensic science, such as the use of DNA evidence. Many detectives specialize in a particular field and need additional training. For example, a July 2013 article in The Guardian notes that homicide detectives may need extensive knowledge about gangs. O*NET Online notes that detectives may also use surveillance equipment in their work.

About the Author

Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.

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