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How do I become a Detective?

Joining the police force is common for those looking to become a detective.
Many private detectives start out as detectives on a police force.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 09 October 2014
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There are two primary types of detectives: police detectives and private detectives. Both require a great deal of training, and the ability to pass certain licensing exams that are used to confirm that the candidate is qualified and morally fit for the job. Many private detectives start out as police detectives, eventually retiring from the police force and taking on private work, so most people become a detective by joining the police force, whether they want to work privately or with the police in the long term.

In order to join the police, a candidate will typically need a degree in criminal justice, and he or she will be required to pass background checks, interviews, and drug tests. If the candidate is accepted, he or she will need to attend to the police academy before serving as a police officer. After six months to two years, the officer can apply to work as a detective.

Police detectives are selected on the basis of experience, performance, and skills. Someone who consistently works hard and thoroughly as a police officer is more likely to be chosen, as is someone who can clear cases efficiently and quickly. A police force may ask a candidate to gain more experience and reapply, which can be frustrating, but should be viewed as an opportunity to rack up more experience to support his or her application. Once promoted to detective, a police officer can work his or her way up the ranks.

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After someone has become a detective in the police and worked for a number of years, it is usually very easy to obtain a license to work as a private detective after retirement. People who do not qualify in the police will probably need to fulfill certain requirements in order to obtain a license from the state or government, such as specific education, ethics classes, and so forth. Private detectives must also pass background checks, which usually include interviews with friends and former coworkers, and other measures which are meant to test moral fitness. These requirements vary by region, and candidates should ask law enforcement agencies about the specific rules where they wish to work.

There is a third way to become a detective, for people who aren't interested in either of these options. Employees of certain government agencies have jobs that involve a great deal of detective work, and while these individuals may not be officially referred to as detectives, they do much of the same work that police detectives and private investigators do. It is also possible to become a private investigator or police detective after having served in a government agency that handles law enforcement issues.

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Discuss this Article

irontoenail
Post 3

@Mor - I'd much rather become a criminal investigator with a real police department anyway. I know there's a romantic image of a lone detective solving crimes, but in reality it's the police who do all that work and most of it isn't as fulfilling as it looks on TV.

But it would still be a satisfying job and it would still be a lot of fun, I think. Plus being a police detective is something to be proud of.

Mor
Post 2

@browncoat - What worries me is not the people who try out being a detective for a few weeks and then give up, but the ones who manage to fool a few clients into giving them money.

If you do need a detective for any reason, make sure you look into their credentials and get recommendations and so forth before using them. If possible, don't pay them up front, even if you need to put the money into escrow of some kind.

It's all too easy to get ripped off when there isn't a system in place to police who gets to call themselves a detective.

browncoat
Post 1

It's actually very easy to be able to call yourself a detective in the traditional sense of a "private eye." Most states barely have any requirements aside from applying for a license.

Whether or not you'll be any good at it, or get any clients is another story. It's such a romantic job, there are probably a fair amount of people out there calling themselves detectives. And quite a few of those people have real police experience and know what they're doing.

I can see how a young person might think they have what it takes because they're good at looking things up online, but almost everyone is these days. Becoming a real detective would take contacts and experience and even then I think it would be difficult to drum up a client list, because, let's face it, how many people actually need a detective at any point?

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