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If you regularly watch your favorite TV cop show and think, "I could do that," maybe you should investigate becoming a homicide detective. The work might not be exactly how it appears on the small screen, but it can definitely be a challenging and exciting job. As veteran law enforcement officers, homicide detectives have developed their skills through years of experience, training and instruction.
What Homicide Detectives Do
Homicide detectives investigate murders, supervise all aspects of homicide cases (including evidence collection and analysis) and collaborate with forensic technicians on any potential leads. When following leads, homicide detectives use interrogation, surveillance and record checks to create a case for prosecution. As the leader of an investigative team, a homicide detective delegates tasks to uniformed officers, but plays a key role whenever experienced police work is required to question suspects and get information from witnesses. In court, a homicide detective provides expert testimony to link the criminal evidence to the accused. They also must stay abreast of new technologies used to investigate murder and apprehend perpetrators, such as DNA testing and digital forensics.
How to Become a Homicide Detective
Getting a job with a police department is the very first step toward becoming a homicide detective. Physical and written tests must be passed to qualify for the police department. Physical tests include demanding runs and intense fitness evaluations. Written tests measure math ability, reading comprehension and written communication skills. Upon being hired, recruits undertake a challenging training program at the police academy. The length of this training program varies greatly depending on the city. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the average duration was 21 weeks across all academies, ranging anywhere from four weeks to six months.
Following many years in service, a uniformed officer may request a promotion to detective status or choose to take the detective exam. Professional excellence, intellectual ability and effective use of departmental resources are key considerations when a potential detective's job performance is reviewed. The exam focuses on police procedures and investigative techniques used by detectives. Homicide detectives don't need to have a college degree, but many have at least a bachelor's degree in criminal justice or a related field. Many police departments provide classroom instruction and forensic and investigative training for prospective homicide detectives.
Where a Homicide Detective Can Work
Opportunities for a homicide detective depend on the jurisdiction. A small police department probably has a couple of detectives assigned to all types of cases (including homicide), and some won't have any. Only much larger departments have detectives assigned full-time to homicide, and the larger the department, the more homicide detectives it has.
A homicide detective may work for a County Sheriff's Office. The main difference between a sheriff's office and a police department is the area of jurisdiction. Generally, a sheriff's office serves a county, while a police department serves a specific city or town.
Homicide detectives are different than FBI agents, despite both being law enforcement officers. Because FBI agents are federal officers, stricter demands are placed on them in terms of education, experience and physical ability, while the standard for police detectives changes from one state or jurisdiction to another.
- U.S. Department of Justice: State and Local Law Enforcement Training Academies, 2013
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Claire Gillespie is a writer and editor with experience in law, business and PR. She has written about careers for many websites, including SheKnows and Reader's Digest.