Job Description

Detectives, whether police, federal agents, private detectives or others, collect and analyze information in order solve criminal or civil cases.

They carry out surveillance, conduct interviews, examine records and other data, and participate in raids and arrests.

Public sector detectives work at the local, state and federal levels, while private investigators are self-employed or work for detective agencies.

Here is a brief overview of 3 types of detective, the kind of work they do, and what is needed join their ranks:

Police Detectives

Education requirements: Those wishing to become police detectives must first serve up to 5 years as a patrol officer. Most police departments require recruits to posses at least a high school diploma and according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, many officers have an associate degree or bachelors degree.

Some police departments require officers to have undertaken a certain amount of college coursework in criminal justice, and some favor a bachelors degree. Knowledge of a foreign language can also be advantageous.

Training: Candidates will attend police academy for around 3 months, during which time they will be instructed in the different aspects of police work. Training will include course work in local laws, state laws, constitutional law and civil rights.

Field training in emergency response procedures, firearms handling, arrest procedures and self-defense also form part of the curriculum, as well as the more humdrum subjects of patrol duties and traffic control.

Progressing to Detective: the promotion route from beat cop to detective varies from department to department. And as mentioned previously, candidates should be aware that this career path may take up to 5 years. For this reason only those with a real passion for policing are likely to succeed.

Typically, a career path might consist of promotion from beat cop to sergeant, and then from sergeant to Sergeant First Detective. Large, busy urban police departments may offer the best opportunities for advancement.

Physical and Personal Qualities: Like patrol officers, police detectives should maintain a good overall level of fitness. They should be mentally stable, too, and be able to cope well with stress. They must also be able to keep their heads and think clearly in dangerous and volatile situations.

Good interpersonal skills are also a must; they need to be able to communicate clearly, and be able to deal with people who may be upset, hostile, uncooperative, or in other ways difficult.

Detectives must also posses excellent critical thinking skills and a good eye for detail in order to analyse data. And although many work regular hours, they must at times (when performing surveillance, for example) be willing to work overtime and tolerate a more anti-social schedule.

FBI Agents & Detectives

FBI agents are the federal governments primary investigators, responsible for investigating violations relating to over 260 statutes, and matters pertaining to national security.

Agents work covers activities such as undercover assignments, court-authorised wire-taps, surveillance, tracking stolen property, examining business records and other data forensics.

Criminal activity investigated by FBI agents include:

Organised crime, business and accounting fraud, corruption, drug trafficking, bribery, extortion, bank robbery, kidnapping, terrorism and other violations of federal laws.

Qualifications: FBI agent candidates must hold a bachelors degree and have at least 3 years fulltime related job experience. For candidates who wish to work in law enforcement, experience in law, with the police service, or with the military would be advantageous. For those wishing to work in the fraud and financial crime arena, experience in the financial field is helpful.

In addition, the FBI presently prioritises applications from candidates who possess one or more of the following skills:

  • Accounting
  • Finance
  • Computer Science/Information Technology Expertise
  • Engineering Expertise
  • Foreign Language(s) Proficiency
  • Intelligence Experience
  • Law Experience
  • Law Enforcement/Investigative Experience
  • Military Experience
  • Physical Sciences (e.g., physics, chemistry, biology, etc.) Expertise
  • Diversified Experience

Before being accepted into the FBI, candidates must pass medical, physical and psychological examinations, take an oral and written examination, and undergo an extensive background check.

Candidates must also fall between the ages of 23 and 36 years, although age wavers can be made for eligible veterans who have passed their 37th birthday.

Training: Once accepted, candidates undergo 20 weeks of intensive training at the FBI academy on the US Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia. Trainees live on campus and participate in a variety of class-based and outdoors training including:

  • Academic and investigative subjects.
  • Physical fitness.
  • Self-defence.
  • Weapons handling.
  • Practical application of skills.

Successful candidates are also expected to participate in ongoing training to stay abreast of the latest developments in the intelligence and law enforcement communities.

Private Investigators

A private investigator or PI, is a detective who undertakes investigations for private citizens and for entities other than government and law enforcement organisations. They often work for attorneys in civil cases, and on behalf of insurance companies to investigate suspicious or fraudulent claims.

Many are hired to obtain evidence of adultery or illegal conduct as grounds for divorce. In fact, collecting evidence of wayward behaviour of spouses is one of the most common and profitable services performed by PIs.

PIs also undertake types of work that is not usually associated with the profession, such as serving subpoenas and other legal documents, and tracing debtors.Some also specialise in the industrial espionage arena; they locate bugging devices and offer other counter-surveillance services for corporations.

Licensing: Many states require PIs to be licensed, and these requirements will vary from state to state. Some states permit PIs to carry firearms while others do not. A PI will typically take great care not to break the law when investigating a case; committing misdemeanors such as trespass or breaking and entering could result in the loss of his or her licence.

Education and Training:

although, in theory, no formal qualifications are needed to become a PI, many PIs are retired/former police officers or have other law enforcement experience, and many agency owners are educated to degree level.

Most private detective agencies would expect potential recruits to have prior investigative experience and/or some kind of particular expertise. A firm specialising in criminal defence services for example, would favour persons with legal training.

Also, many states require some level of education beyond a high school diploma before they will grant a license. Working as a detective may not be as glamorous and exciting as TV and the movies would have us believe, nor will it necessarily be highly paid. But for those who are suited to this unconventional career, it can offer an interesting, varied and uniquely rewarding way of life.