How to Become a Criminal Investigator

Many college students who are interested in law enforcement might want to learn how to become a criminal investigator. While you may not need a college degree to become a criminal investigator, you will need law enforcement education and on-the-job training. You will probably have to work in an entry-level job, such as a patrol officer, before earning a promotion to criminal investigator.

how to become a criminal investigator

How To Become a Criminal Investigator: Job Description

A criminal investigator, called a detective by some agencies, investigates crimes by visiting the crime scene, collecting evidence and interviewing victims and witnesses. They arrest suspects, prepare cases and testify in court. All types of law enforcement agencies employ criminal investigators, including local police departments, state game and fish agencies and federal entities such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation. While you’re learning about how to become a criminal investigator and as you’re considering if it’s right for you, you should consider that criminal investigators work at night, on weekends and holidays. Their jobs are dangerous and stressful.

How To Become a Criminal Investigator: General Requirements

Most law enforcement agencies share the same general requirements for hiring. A candidate usually must be at least 21 years old, hold a valid driver’s license, be a U.S. citizen and be in sound physical condition. You may have to pass a physical fitness test as well as vision and hearing tests. Candidates with felony convictions may be disqualified. Fluency in a foreign language may help you get a job, especially with a federal agency or a large urban police department.

How To Become a Criminal Investigator: Education Requirements

All law enforcement agencies require that applicants have at least a high school diploma or GED certificate. Many state and most federal agencies require that applicants hold a college degree or have some college training, such as a degree in psychology. Most agencies, including those at the local level, encourage their officers to continue their educations, and some even offer tuition assistance.

Before going to work, you will complete a training program at a law enforcement training academy; large agencies have their own academies, small agencies send recruits to a regional or state academy. At the academy, you’ll study law, civil rights and police ethics. You’ll also participate in training exercises to learn self-defense, traffic control, first aid and patrol. Classes and trips to the shooting range will teach you responsible use of firearms.

After graduating from the academy, you will receive on-the-job training while on a probationary period, usually paired with another officer. After that period is over, you may be eligible for promotions, granted through written exams and job performance evaluations. Most criminal investigators earn their jobs by taking a promotion examination.

How To Become a Criminal Investigator: Useful Skills

In addition to the physical, mental and deductive skills taught at the training academy, good criminal investigators have other traits that make them successful. You will need to be a good communicator, able to listen well and to express yourself to others. You must have good judgment and solid decision-making skills. You’ll also need to be a leader, able to take charge in sometimes tense and dangerous situations.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information for Criminal Investigators

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expected employment of law enforcement officers to grow by about 7 percent from 2010-2020. The median annual salary for detectives and criminal investigators was $71,770 in May 2011, with half making between $51,060 and $94,620, according to the BLS. The extra work to become a criminal investigator pays off with a higher salary than for patrol officers, who average $54,230.

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