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Gang Investigator Career Guide

Police gang units must know and must stay current on the specific details of gangs that interact in their jurisdictions. Gangs are insular communities and are protective of information and members. As a result, it often takes a great deal of fieldwork to develop the necessary contacts and credentials to be involved in the prevention and fighting of crime associated with gangs.

Gang Investigator Job Description, Duties and Common Tasks

Gang investigators are typically law enforcement professionals who have been specially trained to address the problems of gang activity within their jurisdictions. Gang detectives may:

  • Build relationships with gang members
  • Develop knowledge on gangs and gang members
  • Investigate criminal cases involving gang members
  • Testify in court
  • Visit schools to educate students about gangs

How to Become a Gang Investigator: Requirements and Qualifications

Prospective gang detectives must first:

  • Become a police officer or have experience in corrections, parole, or probation
  • Successfully complete the application process, including submitting to an extensive background investigation, if becoming a police officer
  • Attend and pass the police officer training academy, which generally lasts a minimum of a few months
  • Possess a bachelor’s degree in: criminology, sociology, or law enforcement.

Gang Investigator Job Training

Gang investigators typically must learn the language of the gang, with which they will be working, in terms of both culture and gang symbolism, and must develop an intimate knowledge of gang disputes and territories. Gangs often communicate using pictures, acronyms, and even types of sign language, all of which a gang investigator must learn to effectively communicate with gang members. Investigators create dossiers, by interviewing and developing relationships with gang members, on individual gang members that can help solve the gang’s hierarchy of leadership. On-the-job training may be required, depending on the agency for which the gang investigator works. Ongoing training is essential and can often be completed by attending training seminars and conferences held by the National Alliance of Gang Investigators Associations or its individual branches.

Other Helpful Skills and Experience

Gang investigators must be able to work well under pressure, to be discreet, and to effectively communicate with a diverse population. Successful candidates typically have prior law enforcement experience or have experience in corrections, parole, or probation.

Examples of Possible Job Titles for this Career

  • Gang detective
  • Gang investigator

Career Opportunities and Employers

Police officers generally earn promotions to the position of gang investigator. Seasoned gang detectives may advance to supervisory or administrative positions. Gang detectives work with local or state police or the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Gang Investigator Salary and Outlook

Police agencies will always need skilled investigators to deal with criminal activity by gangs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects job growth of 5% from 2012 to 2022 for police and detectives.1 Salaries vary depending on position; however, if the investigator is a police officer, pay will be commensurate with time in service and grade in that officer’s jurisdiction. According to the BLS, detectives and criminal investigators earn an average annual salary of $79,030 as of 2012.2

Frequently Asked Questions About This Career

How big of a problem are gangs in the United States?

The FBI asserts that there are more than 33,000 street gangs with an estimated 1.4 million members across the country.

How many years of law enforcement experience is necessary before being promoted to gang detective?

Prospective investigators should be prepared to work as a police officer, usually a patrol officer, for between two and five years before being eligible to advance to the gang investigations unit.

How dangerous is it to work as a gang investigator?

As with any position in law enforcement, gang detectives face numerous dangers from having their identity discovered by the gang they’re infiltrating to attacks from rival gang members. As a result, gang investigators must be on guard and aware of their surroundings at all times.

Additional Resources

Gang Investigator Interviews

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1. Bureau of Labor Statistics: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Protective-Service/Police-and-detectives.htm
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics: http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm
3. San Jose Police Department: http://www.sjpd.org/BOI/Gang_Investigations.html
4. FBI – Gangs: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/vc_majorthefts/gangs