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Police detectives protect the public by investigating and solving crimes and arresting those who commit them. Detectives at large departments work on specific types of crimes, including homicides, burglaries and sexual crimes. Smaller police departments rely on detectives to investigate many types of crime. To prepare for a career as a police detective, understand the qualifications you are expected to meet.
To qualify for a police detective job in the United States, you generally must be a U.S. citizen and at least 21 years old. You also must have a valid driver’s license and pass physical fitness tests. In addition to testing your level of fitness, the tests ensure that you meet vision and hearing standards. To qualify for employment, detectives also must pass background checks, a lie-detector test and a drug test. Felony convictions generally disqualify individuals from employment as police detectives.
A high school diploma or GED is the minimum education requirement to be a police detective, although most states prefer that city, county and state police detectives have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. Police agencies prefer detectives with degrees in law enforcement, police science or criminology, but they may hire detectives with a wide range of degrees. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, urban police departments and federal law enforcement agencies seek detectives who can speak a second language, particularly Spanish.
The best way to land a job as a detective is to work as a police officer or serve as a member of the armed forces for at least a few years. Although it is not always required, agencies often favor hiring detectives who have such experience. The Los Angeles Police Department requires all detectives to work as officers for at least four years before they can be promoted to detective positions. Most agencies also require newly hired individuals to complete training before beginning to work in the field as detectives. Agencies may require only internal training, including field training, from other detectives, but most turn to state-operated police academies to train detectives. Another option available to detectives is the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Academy, which provides training for municipal detectives.
To succeed as a detective, you must possess certain skills. Detectives must be capable of multitasking because they are likely to be working on several cases each day. Detectives also need to have good communication skills, including strong interviewing abilities, and astute judgment and perceptiveness. The latter helps detectives determine whether suspects, victims and witnesses are being honest. Detectives also must have strong analytical skills and good intuition. Both help in solving crimes.
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