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A True Crime Addict’s Guide to Becoming a Real Police Detective

(Last Updated On: September 1, 2023)

You grew up consuming all manner of mystery novels and procedural television series; you have seen every true crime documentary and know the details of the most famous criminal incidents of the past century. You are quick to develop theories on unfolding criminal stories, and your ideas are usually close to correct. Have you ever considered contributing your passion and talent to the field of criminal investigations by becoming a real police detective? Here is the Guide to becoming a real Police Detective. Keep reading.

Aside from the opportunity to be involved in real criminal investigations, you could gain a number of benefits by entering this career field. Detectives have remarkable job security; not only is there a high demand for experienced law enforcement officers, but that demand remains regardless of the behavior of the economy. As a result, law enforcement agencies tend to retain their detectives, sometimes for life. The average annual salary for a police detective is $84,826, though detective work in larger urban areas can pay significantly more. From a detective position, you might climb into management, perhaps even securing the lucrative office of the chief of police.

Becoming a police detective might be easier than you expect. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you achieve the career of your dreams.

Hone Your Detective Skills

The more you have engaged with police procedurals and true crime, the more accurately you should be able to list the skills detectives need to solve crimes. These include:

  • Active listening
  • Critical thinking
  • Decision making
  • Problem-solving
  • Research
  • Interviewing
  • Evidence collection
  • Surveillance
  • Human psychology
  • Emotional intelligence

Before and during your career in law enforcement, you should practice these skills to ensure they are sharp and ready to use when you become a real detective. While a degree program in criminal justice might give you a formal space to hone your skills — more on that later — you can practice many of these skills in your regular life.

Train to Become a Police Officer

You cannot become a police detective without first becoming a police officer. All prospective police officers must attend the police academy, which involves a variety of rigorous training models that compel police recruits to gain the physical, mental, and emotional skills necessary for policing. Once you have completed your academy training, you are ready for a job in law enforcement.

Different states have different requirements, but training at the academy usually requires between five and eight months. During this time, you will engage with difficult physical training regimens designed to improve your strength, agility, and endurance. You will also participate in weapons training, in which you will become proficient not only with a variety of firearms but also various non-lethal tools, like batons, sprays, TASERs, and projectile launchers. Finally, the police academy requires recruits to take classroom courses to improve their understanding of key issues, like ethics, criminal procedures, agency management, cultural sensitivity, and more.

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Build Experience in Law Enforcement

Despite your enthusiasm, you won’t make a good detective if you don’t have any real-world law enforcement experience. Therefore, you will need to spend a few years in a lower-level law enforcement position before you can apply for a role as a detective. There are a variety of entry-level law enforcement jobs you can obtain right out of the academy, though some are better for the path to detective work than others. While you might be tempted by positions in border patrol or corrections, the fact is that working as a typical police officer is most likely to get you into the detective position you crave. Not only do police officers participate in similar activities and utilize similar skills to detectives, but they often work alongside detectives at crime scenes. Therefore, as a cop, you are more likely to achieve your career aspirations.

Consider Pursuing Advanced Education

Not all states require detectives to have a two- or four-year college degree, though some do. In any case, you should consider earning a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice, which will allow you to improve your knowledge and skills in a formal education setting and demonstrate your commitment to the field to higher-ups. With a degree on your resume, you are more likely to see advancement into your desired law enforcement positions with greater speed and ease than you might without such a high-powered credential.

Apply for Available Detective Positions

Law enforcement agencies generally want their detectives to be the best of the best, so application processes for available detective positions tend to be intense. You will participate in drug testing and background checks, complete certification and licensing programs that test your skills and knowledge, endure psychological evaluations, and more to ensure you are right for the role. Fortunately, if you have prepared properly, you should be accepted into a detective position and see your dreams come true.

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