How to Become a Police Detective

Police Detective Key Stats
Avg. Salary / year $73,230
Avg. Pay / hour $35.21
Education 3-4 Years
Job Outlook 3%

If you are looking for a role in law enforcement where no two days will ever be the same, then you might like to become a police detective.

Detectives work on the tough cases.

They investigate homicides, drug operations, and violent crimes.

It may take them just hours to crack a case, or sometimes years.

Police detectives are experienced law enforcement officers who are promoted when their excellent skills are acknowledged by their superiors.

They work at local, state, and federal levels of law enforcement.

To succeed as a police detective you’ll need strong interpersonal skills, attention to detail, and an interest in criminal justice.

While the role of the police detective is a challenging one, you can look forward to the opportunity of being able to contribute to your community.

Education Requirements to Become a Police Detective

To become a police detective, you’ll need to first become a police officer.

There are entry points in local, state and federal levels of government.

While you only need a high school diploma to become a police officer, if you are looking at being promoted to the position of detective, you will need to gain a college degree.

A specialization in criminal justice or law enforcement is ideal, however study in other areas will suffice usually.

At state level, a two year associates degree from community college may allow you to be eligible to become a police detective in some places.

It’s important to review the requirements of the branch you are interested in before you enroll in any courses.

If you want to work for a federal branch of law enforcement, such as the FBI, you will need a four year bachelors degree as a minimum.

You will also need to pass stringent physical, psychological, and medical testing before you qualify for a role.

In most states you need to be between 18 and 21 to become a police officer.

You’ll also need to be a US citizen.

To become a police detective, you should expect to put in a few years of work as a police officer before you have the opportunity for promotion.

Police Detective Job Description

For a police detective, there is no typical day at work.

Each day will be different and will bring new challenges.

Most detectives work within a specific area.

For instance, homicide, violent crime, kidnapping, armed robbery, or drug investigations..

Here are some of the tasks you could be responsible for as a police detective:

  • Investigating a crime scene
  • Analyzing dangerous situations
  • Making arrests
  • Completing background checks
  • Questioning suspects
  • Questioning witnesses
  • Paperwork and report writing
  • Using computer databases
  • Communicating with colleagues

When you become a police detective, you have a role which is very important to the community.

To investigate some of the most violent crimes and help to bring criminals to justice is to many detectives a privilege.

Police Detective Salary and Career Path

When you begin your career in law enforcement, you can expect to start working as a police officer.

You could be completing paperwork, responding to call outs, or patrolling the streets.

You will likely be subject to a probation period of six months to three years, after which you will be eligible for promotion.

With hard work and professional development you could expect to become a police detective.

In the beginning you will be paired with an experienced partner, but as time progresses you will be given more responsibility and challenging cases.

The median wage of a detective is $60,000 a year.

Starting out in law enforcement, your salary would be closer to $40,000 a year.

Police work offers excellent job security, as well as benefits.

Some similar roles to that of police detective you might be interested in include:

  • Police officer
  • Cop
  • FBI Agent
  • US Marshal
  • Arson investigator
  • Coroner
  • Corrections officer
  • Private investigator

Police work can be very rewarding.

When you become a police detective you have the opportunity to make a positive contribution to your community.

If you’re interested in a job in law enforcement that has plenty of variety and room for promotion then a career as a police detective might be right for you.

BLSThe below information is based on the 2021 BLS national averages.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary


Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
District of Columbia$123,760
New Hampshire$85,020
New Jersey$104,670
New Mexico$75,250
New York$107,990
North Carolina$66,030
North Dakota$77,550
Rhode Island$87,610
South Carolina$66,830
South Dakota$76,410
West Virginia$87,390
Puerto Rico$83,580

The top earning state in the field is Alaska, where the average salary is $126,810.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

Alaska - $126,810
District of Columbia - $123,760
Maryland - $115,660
Hawaii - $111,130
Washington - $108,550
* Salary information based on the May 2021 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Detectives and Criminal Investigators, OCC Code 33-3021, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Police Detective?

Police detectives are law enforcement professionals who investigate criminal cases.

In order to become a police detective, you must first work as a police officer.

Detectives can work at a local, state or federal level and can specialize in a particular field, such as drug enforcement, arson or homicide.

Police detectives should be in good physical shape and able to work in stressful situations.

In order to conduct interviews and gather information, detectives need empathy and good communication skills.

Detectives also need good judgment, as they are often faced with problems that need to be solved quickly.

Some of the job responsibilities of a police detective include observing the activities of suspects, interviewing suspects and witnesses, examining criminal records, and participating in raids and arrests.

Police detectives may also testify in court to help convict suspects.

They usually work full time and paid overtime is common.

How much does a Police Detective make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for detectives and criminal investigators was $81,920 in May of 2018.

How much a detective makes depends on many factors, including employer, his or her level of experience and overtime hours.

For instance, detectives working for the federal government earned a median wage of $87,130 per year, in May of 2018, while detectives working in state, local or private sectors earned $52,570.

How much does it cost to become a Police Detective?

If you want to become a police detective, you must first work as an officer.

After gaining a few years of experience you can be promoted based on a test and case record.

Police officers need at least a high school diploma or GED.

If you want a federal position you should also hold a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, law enforcement or a related field.

Some precincts also require that officers have some college education.

Earning a bachelor’s degree can cost you somewhere between $11,000-$32,000 per year, depending on the chosen institution.

After passing interviews, background and drug tests, you will be able to start training at the police academy.

Completing your training usually costs less than $5,000 and some police departments reimburse a part of the tuition.

What is the demand for Police Detectives?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for police detectives and investigators is expected to grow 3 percent by 2028.

The number of jobs available depends on the level of government spending, the demand for police detectives varies from year to year and from region to region.

Applicants who hold a bachelor’s degree, have investigative experience and speak more than one language have better chances at becoming police detectives.

How long does it take to become a Police Detective?

In order to become a police detective, you must first have several years of experience as an officer.

If you want to become a police officer you should complete the police academy, which lasts around 6 months.

Some departments also require officers to hold a bachelor’s degree. Getting your degree in criminal justice or law enforcement will take about 3-4 years.

After finishing the police academy you will be on probation before being assigned to a particular unit.

The probation period lasts, on average about 6 months, but it depends on how well you are performing.

Once you become a police officer you will need about 4-5 years of experience in the field before you can take a promotional exam to become a detective.

Jamie Willis
Career Specialist at BecomeopediaHi, my name is Jamie Willis, and I have been helping students find their perfect internships and education paths for the last ten years. It is a passion of mine, and there really is nothing better than seeing students of mine succeed with further studies.

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