Criminal Investigator Career Guide

One job in the field of criminal justice that offers a great deal of variety is that of criminal investigator. The nature of the work depends on education, experience, and the area of concentration. The work of criminal investigators has been glamorized on television and in the movies. On television shows, the crime is always solved within an hour, but that is not the case in real life. The job of a criminal investigator is to attempt to solve each case that comes his or her way.

Criminal Investigator Career Description, Duties, and Common Tasks

Criminal investigators may begin their career doing entry-level type tasks, including examining written records, helping to prepare evidence for trial, investigating both felony and misdemeanor crimes, and offering testimony in court about the gathered evidence. One of the main contexts in which an investigator works is crime scenes. The investigator is charged with studying the scene and determining what may have occurred based on the evidence observed and collected at the scene. A criminal investigator then turns evidence over to a forensics specialist for evaluation. An investigator often interviews people who are related to the case to gain more information. This might include witnesses and family and friends of the suspect. They can study records, observe suspicious activities or suspects, and help with raids and arrests. As an investigator gains experience, his/her responsibilities in areas such as these will increase, even to a supervisory capacity.

Detectives typically investigate a particular crime, such as homicide. Cases are typically assigned to detectives on a rotating basis, and detectives work on these cases until the perpetrator is arrested and convicted or the case is dropped. The work of police detectives can be extremely dangerous. Police detectives have to practice constant vigilance so that they are ready to confront dangerous situations quickly. They are often exposed to death and suffering and this type of emotional trauma can take a toll. Police detectives often work overtime and frequent weekends, holidays, and nights. They usually work longer hours during an active investigation.

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How to Become a Criminal Investigator: Requirements and Qualifications

Criminal investigators can technically secure employment with only a high school degree or equivalent. However, aspiring investigators, who hold an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree, in criminal investigations or some other area of criminal justice, increase their chances of finding a position. It may also be helpful to pursue courses in crime scene investigation, forensics, psychology, and sociology. Positions with federal agencies typically require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree.

A criminal investigator must possess such traits as the ability to pay careful attention to even the smallest of details and to conduct independent research. The investigator must carefully examine and evaluate every piece of evidence (including physical evidence and information gained from interviews) to determine a possible motive for the crime. Therefore, an investigator must have strong interpersonal skills and well-developed reasoning and critical-thinking skills.

Criminal Investigator Training

Training for investigators generally depends on the agency with which the individual works. Federal agencies, such as the FBI, generally provide training within the organization. Some agencies also offer internship programs for aspiring investigators that will provide real life experience that could also enhance their chance of finding employment.

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Other Helpful Skills and Experience

Criminal investigators must be problem solvers, must be able to effectively interact with and educate people, and must be active listeners. A college degree in criminal justice, or a related field, and experience in law enforcement are both benefits when looking for employment.

Examples of Possible Job Titles for this Career

  • Criminal Investigator
  • Detective
  • Special agent

Career Opportunities and Employers

Criminal investigators generally work for local, state, and federal government agencies, such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the US Forestry Department, the Inspector General, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the FBI. Those investigators with extensive experience may earn promotions to special units or to high-ranking administrative positions. An advanced degree also benefits those seeking a promotion.

Criminal Investigator Salary and Outlook

The annual salary for investigators depends on education, experience, and geographic location. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that detectives and criminal investigators earn an average annual salary of $79,030.1 Future jobs in the area of criminal investigations include fraud investigator (due to the online nature of society today), and police detective.

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Frequently Asked Questions About This Career

What kind of schedule does an investigator work?
Investigators usually work a typical work week of at least 40 hours and must be willing to work various shifts, including holidays, nights, and weekends. Overtime is common as is being relocated. Travel may be required with little advance notice.

Are there any continuing education requirements for criminal investigators?
Because technology constantly evolves, investigators must keep up with the latest industry news and developments. However, whether continuing education or training is required generally depends upon the organization for which the investigator works.

What kind of tools do investigators use?
Some common tools within the criminal investigative field include polygraph machines, wiretapping equipment, and surveillance equipment. Investigators should be prepared to carry a gun.

Additional Resources

Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies – Sharing Ideas for Better Law Enforcement

Federal Criminal Investigators Association – A Resource for Federal Criminal Investigators

Immigration and Customs Enforcement – Become a Criminal Investigator

Inspector General Criminal Investigator Academy – CIGIE Training Institute

Schools offering Law Enforcement and Investigations Degrees

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Grand Canyon University
Campuses: 1Online
Popular Degrees:

  • M.S. in Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
  • M.S. in Criminal Justice: Legal Studies
  • B.S. in Justice Studies

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American InterContinental University Online
Campuses: 1Online
Popular Degrees:

  • Bachelor's (BSCJ) - Law Enforcement
  • Bachelor's (BSCJ) - Generalist

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Capella University
Campuses: 1Online
Popular Degrees:

  • MS - Criminal Justice
  • PhD - Criminal Justice
  • BS - Criminal Justice

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Liberty University
Campuses: 1Online
Popular Degrees:

  • BS in Criminal Justice
  • AA in Criminal Justice
  • Masters in Criminal Justice: Command College

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Harrison College
Campuses: 1Online
Popular Degrees:

  • Criminal Justice

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Post University
Campuses: 1Online
Popular Degrees:

  • B.S. in Human Services / Criminal Justice
  • B.S. in Criminal Justice - Law Enforcement
  • B.S. in Criminal Justice

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Colorado Technical University Online
Campuses: 1Online
Popular Degrees:

  • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice
  • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice – Human Services
  • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice – Cybercrime and Security


Related Careers

Interested in a career similar criminal investigation? Check out these related careers:

References:
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics: http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes333021.htm
2. State of California: http://www.labormarketinfo.edd.ca.gov/OccGuides/Detail.aspx?Soccode=333021&Geography=0601000000
3. State of Virginia: http://jobs.virginia.gov/careerguides/detectivescriminalinvestigators.pdf

Page Edited by Charles Sipe.