How to Become a

Police Detective

The complete career guide to be a Police Detective: salary, job growth, employers, best schools, and education you may need to get started.

Why We Love It

  • $79,620
    Potential Avg. Salary
  • -1.2%
    Job Growth Rate
  • Fast Paced Career
    Career Attribute
  • Good Entry Level Salary
    Career Attribute

Police detectives are investigators that are in charge of collecting evidence and solving crimes. They work for police departments and conduct investigations when crimes are committed in their area. They investigate by overseeing collection of crime-scene evidence and interviewing witnesses and suspects.

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What is a Police Detective?

The following job responsibilities are common for individuals in police detective roles:

  • Collect and/or oversee the collection of evidence from crime scenes
  • Interview witnesses, informants, suspects, and others who may have information about a crime
  • Conduct stakeouts and observe the activities of suspects for evidence of crime participation
  • Request warrants and conduct searches of suspect’s home, business, or other property
  • Collect evidence, form cases, and testify in court about findings

A Day in the Life

Police detectives have varied responsibilities, and no two days are alike. A police detective could spend one day of the week doing nothing but preparing reports and filing paperwork, and they could spend the next day chasing a criminal, participating in a standoff, and protecting others from life-threatening situations. Police detectives are responsible for investigating and solving crimes, upholding laws, and protecting the public, so they’re expected to perform a diverse set of duties.

The primary role of a police detective is conducting crime investigations. A detective may be assigned cases for a variety of crimes. For example, he/she may investigate cases of identity theft, kidnappings, murders, or robberies. The goal of any police detective investigation is to solve the crime and find the perpetrator, but not all cases are solvable. In some cases, police detectives must archive crimes as unsolved and continue revisiting them over time to look for new evidence.

Police detectives may often be required to inset themselves into dangerous situations in order to perform their roles. Most detectives carry firearms for protection and may need to use them to make arrests or safeguard themselves or others. They also testify against individuals in court and can sometimes become the targets of retribution after a suspect or convict is released from an institution. Though the role of police detective can be dangerous, it is a critical role in safeguarding a community.

Typical Work Schedule

Police detectives usually have to work full time with extended working hours. The job is very demanding and usually extend beyond the regular working hours. You will also need to be available on call to investigate crimes or some critical situations. It is generally considered an office-based job; however, you will also spend much of your time interviewing witnesses and suspects, collecting evidences and investigating crime scenes. Normally, detectives do not need to work in night shifts, however it is common that they need to stay overnight when trying to solve a mysterious case. You can expect the job to be highly stressful and therefore must reconsider whether or not you find it rewarding helping members of your community. Depending on the district, some detectives may need to manage travel on short notice as well as to be able to relocate a number of times over the course of their careers.

Projected job growth

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of police detectives is expected to increase by 5% from 2019 to 2029 which is a little bit faster than the average for all the other jobs. This rate however may vary depending on the location as well as the budget. The demand is expected to increase because of the desire for public safety even if the rate of criminal activity decreases. The number of available job opportunities is expected to vary from year to year depending on the government spending policy of each year. This job however is expected to have intense competition due to the low rate of turnover which means that certain qualities must exist to give you an edge in this field. A bachelor’s degree will be a must. You will also need extensive training and practical experience that shows your ability to solve the crimes. Past related experience will be a preferred quality which can be in law enforcement, military forces or investigations.

Career Progression

  • Early Career: Police Cadet, Police Officer
  • Mid-Career: Police Detective, Police Sergeant
  • Late Career: Police Captain, Chief of Police

Typical Employers

The typical employer for police detectives is the government as they work for the police force. This includes working for the local government which is the most common case, the state government or the federal government at the highest level.

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How To Become a Police Detective

All police detectives begin their careers as police officers. The educational requirements for becoming a police officer vary by region and employer. For example, some local police departments may hire police officers with only a high school diploma, but most federal government police officer positions will require candidates to have a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, law enforcement, or another related field. For all police officer positions, applicants must be at least 21 years-old.

Selected police officer candidates must go through a training program to become police officers. The training program includes classroom instruction on laws as well as practical instruction on proper use of firearms, first aid techniques, and self-defense practices. Candidates must complete their training and pass written, phycological, and physical exams to graduate their training programs and become police officers. Aspiring detectives must then serve as police officers for a number of years before qualifying for a promotion into a detective role.

The decision for promotion to detective could be based on a number of factors. For some departments, promotions may be a matter of seniority. For others, promotion decisions could be made by looking at a candidate’s education history, work record, and test scores. Candidates with a lot of experience as police officers, higher educational credentials, and a history of successful work performance will likely be in the best position to get detective promotions when new positions open in their departments.

Police Detective Salary Data

We’ve provided you the following to learn more about this career. The salary and growth data on this page comes from recently published Bureau of Labor Statistics data while the recommendations and editorial content are based on our research.

National Anual Salary

Low Range




High Range


National Hourly Wage

Low Range




High Range


How do Police Detective salaries stack up to other jobs across the country? Based on the latest jobs data nationwide, Police Detective's can make an average annual salary of $79,620, or $38 per hour. On the lower end, they can make $53,810 or $26 per hour, perhaps when just starting out or based on the state you live in.

Salary Rankings And Facts

  • #143 Nationally for All Careers

  • Above Average Salary Nationally

Programs and Degrees

Here are the most common degrees for becoming a Police Detective. a is usually recommended and specifically a degree or coursework that prepares you for the particular field, see below.

Highest Education Among Police Detectives

  • 2.3%   Doctorate
  • 13.1%   Masters
  • 41.8%   Bachelors
  • 12.3%   Associates
  • 22.9%   College
  • 7.2%   High School
  • 0.4%   Less than High School

Job Growth Projections and Forecast

2014 Total Jobs


2024 Est. Jobs


Job Growth Rate


Est. New Jobs


How does Police Detective job growth stack up to other jobs across the country? By 2024, there will be a change of -1,400 jobs for a total of 115,300 people employed in the career nationwide. This is a -1.2% change in growth over the next ten years, giving the career a growth rate nationwide of Above Average.

Growth Rankings And Facts

  • #640 Nationally for All Careers

  • Above Avg. Growth Nationally

What Companies Employ The Most Police Detectives

Industry Current Jobs New Jobs Needed % Increase
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 48,500 2,700 3%
Federal government, excluding postal service 45,500 -4,400 -4%
State government, excluding education and hospitals 21,300 400 0%

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