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Career profile Detective

Also known as Criminal Investigator, Detective, Detective Sergeant, Fugitive Detective, Fugitive Investigator, Investigator, Narcotics Detective, Narcotics Investigator, Police Detective, Special Agent

Detective

Also known as Criminal Investigator, Detective, Detective Sergeant

Interests Profile
  • Enterprising
  • Investigative
  • Realistic
Pay Range
$46,020 - $146,000 (annual)
Required Skills
  • Active Listening
  • Critical Thinking
  • Speaking
Knowledge Areas
  • Law and Government
  • Public Safety and Security
  • Customer and Personal Service
Core tasks
  • Check victims for signs of life, such as breathing and pulse.
  • Obtain facts or statements from complainants, witnesses, and accused persons and record interviews, using recording device.
  • Secure deceased body and obtain evidence from it, preventing bystanders from tampering with it prior to medical examiner's arrival.
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What does a Detective do?

Detectives conduct investigations related to suspected violations of federal, state, or local laws to prevent or solve crimes.

What kind of tasks does a Detective perform regularly?

Detectives are often responsible for overseeing or executing some or all of the following tasks:

  • Check victims for signs of life, such as breathing and pulse.
  • Obtain facts or statements from complainants, witnesses, and accused persons and record interviews, using recording device.
  • Secure deceased body and obtain evidence from it, preventing bystanders from tampering with it prior to medical examiner's arrival.
  • Record progress of investigation, maintain informational files on suspects, and submit reports to commanding officer or magistrate to authorize warrants.
  • Prepare charges or responses to charges, or information for court cases, according to formalized procedures.
  • Preserve, process, and analyze items of evidence obtained from crime scenes and suspects, placing them in proper containers and destroying evidence no longer needed.
  • Obtain summary of incident from officer in charge at crime scene, taking care to avoid disturbing evidence.
  • Note, mark, and photograph location of objects found, such as footprints, tire tracks, bullets and bloodstains, and take measurements of the scene.
  • Prepare reports that detail investigation findings.
  • Examine records and governmental agency files to find identifying data about suspects.
  • Secure persons at scene, keeping witnesses from conversing or leaving the scene before investigators arrive.
  • Provide information to lab personnel concerning the source of an item of evidence and tests to be performed.
  • Analyze completed police reports to determine what additional information and investigative work is needed.
  • Obtain and verify evidence by interviewing and observing suspects and witnesses or by analyzing records.
  • Prepare and serve search and arrest warrants.
  • Question individuals or observe persons and establishments to confirm information given to patrol officers.
  • Identify case issues and evidence needed, based on analysis of charges, complaints, or allegations of law violations.
  • Participate or assist in raids and arrests.
  • Organize scene search, assigning specific tasks and areas of search to individual officers and obtaining adequate lighting as necessary.
  • Summon medical help for injured individuals and alert medical personnel to take statements from them.
  • Notify command of situation and request assistance.
  • Testify before grand juries concerning criminal activity investigations.
  • Block or rope off scene and check perimeter to ensure that entire scene is secured.
  • Notify, or request notification of, medical examiner or district attorney representative.
  • Search for and collect evidence, such as fingerprints, using investigative equipment.
  • Determine scope, timing, and direction of investigations.
  • Maintain surveillance of establishments to obtain identifying information on suspects.
  • Collaborate with other offices and agencies to exchange information and coordinate activities.
  • Perform undercover assignments and maintain surveillance, including monitoring authorized wiretaps.
  • Examine records to locate links in chains of evidence or information.

The above responsibilities are specific to Detectives. More generally, Detectives are involved in several broader types of activities:

Getting Information
Observing, receiving, and otherwise obtaining information from all relevant sources.
Making Decisions and Solving Problems
Analyzing information and evaluating results to choose the best solution and solve problems.
Performing for or Working Directly with the Public
Performing for people or dealing directly with the public. This includes serving customers in restaurants and stores, and receiving clients or guests.
Identifying Objects, Actions, and Events
Identifying information by categorizing, estimating, recognizing differences or similarities, and detecting changes in circumstances or events.
Documenting/Recording Information
Entering, transcribing, recording, storing, or maintaining information in written or electronic/magnetic form.

What is a Detective salary?

The median salary for a Detective is $86,940, and the average salary is $89,300. Both the median and average roughly describe the middle of the Detective salary range, but the average is more easily affected by extremely high or low salaries.

Many Detectives earn significantly more or less than the average, due to several factors. About 10% of Detectives earn less than $46,020 per year, 25% earn less than $59,620, 75% earn less than $111,900, and 90% earn less than $146,000.

Between the years of 2020 and 2030, the number of Detectives is expected to change by 2.5%, and there should be roughly 8,400 open positions for Detectives every year.

Median annual salary
$86,940
Typical salary range
$46,020 - $146,000
Projected growth (2020 - 2030)
2.5%

What personality traits are common among Detectives?

Interests

Career interests describe a person's preferences for different types of working environments and activities. When a person's interest match the demands of an occupation, people are usually more engaged and satisfied in that role.

Compared to most occupations, those who work as a Detective are usually higher in their Enterprising and Investigative interests.

Detectives typically have very strong Enterprising interests. Enterprising occupations frequently involve starting up and carrying out projects. These occupations can involve leading people and making many decisions. Sometimes they require risk taking and often deal with business.

Also, Detectives typically have strong Investigative interests. Investigative occupations frequently involve working with ideas, and require an extensive amount of thinking. These occupations can involve searching for facts and figuring out problems mentally.

Values

People differ in their values, or what is most important to them for building job satisfaction and fulfillment.

Compared to most people, those working as a Detective tend to value Achievement, Working Conditions, and Independence.

Most importantly, Detectives strongly value Achievement. Occupations that satisfy this work value are results oriented and allow employees to use their strongest abilities, giving them a feeling of accomplishment.

Second, Detectives strongly value Working Conditions. Occupations that satisfy this work value offer job security and good working conditions.

Lastly, Detectives strongly value Independence. Occupations that satisfy this work value allow employees to work on their own and make decisions.

Psychological Demands

Each occupation brings its own set of psychological demands, which describe the characteristics necessary to perform the job well.

In order to perform their job successfully, people who work as Detectives must consistently demonstrate qualities such as integrity, self-control, and stress tolerance.

Below, you'll find a list of qualities typically required of Detectives, ranked by importance:

Integrity
Job requires being honest and ethical.
Self-Control
Job requires maintaining composure, keeping emotions in check, controlling anger, and avoiding aggressive behavior, even in very difficult situations.
Stress Tolerance
Job requires accepting criticism and dealing calmly and effectively with high-stress situations.
Dependability
Job requires being reliable, responsible, and dependable, and fulfilling obligations.
Attention to Detail
Job requires being careful about detail and thorough in completing work tasks.

What education and training do Detectives need?

Detectives often have training in vocational schools, related on-the-job experience, or an associate's degree.

Detectives usually need one or two years of training involving both on-the-job experience and informal training with experienced workers. A recognized apprenticeship program may be associated with this occupation.

Educational degrees among Detectives

  • 0.5% did not complete high school or secondary school
  • 8.5% completed high school or secondary school
  • 20.9% completed some college coursework
  • 11.2% earned a Associate's degree
  • 41.5% earned a Bachelor's degree
  • 14.7% earned a Master's degree
  • 2.7% earned a doctorate or professional degree

Knowledge and expertise required by Detectives

Detectives may benefit from understanding of specialized subject areas, such as law and government, public safety and security, or customer and personal service knowledge.

The list below shows several areas in which most Detectives might want to build proficiency, ranked by importance.

Law and Government
Knowledge of laws, legal codes, court procedures, precedents, government regulations, executive orders, agency rules, and the democratic political process.
Public Safety and Security
Knowledge of relevant equipment, policies, procedures, and strategies to promote effective local, state, or national security operations for the protection of people, data, property, and institutions.
Customer and Personal Service
Knowledge of principles and processes for providing customer and personal services. This includes customer needs assessment, meeting quality standards for services, and evaluation of customer satisfaction.
Psychology
Knowledge of human behavior and performance; individual differences in ability, personality, and interests; learning and motivation; psychological research methods; and the assessment and treatment of behavioral and affective disorders.
Education and Training
Knowledge of principles and methods for curriculum and training design, teaching and instruction for individuals and groups, and the measurement of training effects.

Important Abilities needed by Detectives

Detectives must develop a particular set of abilities to perform their job well. Abilities are individual capacities that influence a person's information processing, sensory perception, motor coordination, and physical strength or endurance. Individuals may naturally have certain abilities without explicit training, but most abilities can be sharpened somewhat through practice.

For example, Detectives need abilities such as inductive reasoning, oral comprehension, and problem sensitivity in order to perform their job at a high level. The list below shows several important abilities for Detectives, ranked by their relative importance.

Inductive Reasoning
The ability to combine pieces of information to form general rules or conclusions (includes finding a relationship among seemingly unrelated events).
Oral Comprehension
The ability to listen to and understand information and ideas presented through spoken words and sentences.
Problem Sensitivity
The ability to tell when something is wrong or is likely to go wrong. It does not involve solving the problem, only recognizing that there is a problem.
Deductive Reasoning
The ability to apply general rules to specific problems to produce answers that make sense.
Oral Expression
The ability to communicate information and ideas in speaking so others will understand.

Critical Skills needed by Detectives

Skills are developed capacities that enable people to function effectively in real-world settings. Unlike abilities, skills are typically easier to build through practice and experience. Skills influence effectiveness in areas such as learning, working with others, design, troubleshooting, and more.

Detectives frequently use skills like active listening, critical thinking, and speaking to perform their job effectively. The list below shows several critical skills for Detectives, ranked by their relative importance.

Active Listening
Giving full attention to what other people are saying, taking time to understand the points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times.
Critical Thinking
Using logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions, or approaches to problems.
Speaking
Talking to others to convey information effectively.
Social Perceptiveness
Being aware of others' reactions and understanding why they react as they do.
Complex Problem Solving
Identifying complex problems and reviewing related information to develop and evaluate options and implement solutions.

What is the source of this information?

The information provided on this page is adapted from data and descriptions published by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration under the CC BY 4.0 license. TraitLab has modified some information for ease of use and reading, and the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment, and Training Administration has not approved, endorsed, or tested these modifications.

If you have any questions or suggestions about this information, please send a message.