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Homicide Detective Career Guide

A homicide detective’s job is to investigate deaths suspected to have been caused by criminal activities as well as deaths in which the cause is unknown in order to rule out criminal activity. Homicide detectives are sworn law enforcement officers.

Homicide Detective Career Description, Duties, and Common Tasks

Responsibilities of a homicide detective include gathering evidence, interviewing witnesses, conducting background checks on victims and possible suspects, identifying the responsible party (or parties), preparing cases for court, and assisting in the successful prosecution of offenders. Working conditions vary greatly depending on the nature of the current investigation. A homicide detective must be prepared to work under any conditions.

Homicide detectives are employed by local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies throughout the United States. Depending on the size and geographic location of the agency, the detective’s jurisdiction may cover the entire agency’s jurisdiction or a sector of the area under that agency’s scope. The nature of the work can be very dangerous and stressful, so the detective must be mentally and physically prepared for the tasks performed.

How to Become a Homicide Detective: Requirements and Qualifications

The minimum requirements to become a homicide detective are a high school diploma, law enforcement certification, and experience as a sworn law enforcement officer. Many agencies, however, require that homicide detectives have at least a two- or four-year degree in criminal justice, forensic science, or a related field, and experience as a sworn law enforcement officer.

CJDS FACT: If you do not have law enforcement experience and want to become a detective, you must be realistic and work your way up the ranks in a department. CJDS suggests you review careers that can springboard you to a career as a homicide detective such as police officer, deputy, or crime scene investigator. The schools listed below will also help get you there.

Homicide Detective Training

While police officer training varies depending on the locality of the police department, aspiring homicide detectives should be prepared to attend the police academy and to gain experience as a police officer, a crime scene investigator, or a sheriff’s deputy first. Police officers are generally promoted to the position of detective.

Other Helpful Skills and Experience

Homicide investigators should possess strong communication skills, the ability to remain objective, and should possess the patience and the empathy necessary to work through the often long and emotional process of a homicide investigation. Family and friends of the homicide victim, the general public, and the media will expect immediate resolution, which isn’t realistic. Military experience is also beneficial.

Examples of Possible Job Titles for This Career

  • Criminal investigator
  • Homicide detective
  • Police detective

Career Opportunities and Employers

Homicide detectives, who are generally promoted from their initial position as a police officer or another position in law enforcement, often work for local, state, or federal law enforcement agencies.

Homicide Detective Salary and Outlook

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that detectives and criminal investigators earn an average annual wage of $79,620.1 However, average annual salary can vary widely based on location; detectives and criminal investigators in Washington DC, for example, earn an annual average salary of $119,280.1 The projected job growth for police and detectives is 4% through 2024, based on the anticipated addition of 33,100 new positions.2

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the biggest misconception about the role of a homicide detective?

The media, politicians, and the general public often put pressure on law enforcement, including detectives, to find the culprit and solve the case quickly – like they see on television. Unfortunately, homicide investigations take time and require methodical work to avoid mistakes and to secure a conviction of the right individual.

What type of schedule do homicide detectives work?

Prospective homicide investigators must be prepared to work whenever they are called. Homicides take place at all times of the day and the night, which requires a homicide investigator to be on call and prepared to leave for the crime scene at a moment’s notice.

What are the risks of a career as a homicide detective?

In addition to the physical risks homicide detectives face from suspects, they may also deal with emotional and mental fatigue and stress associated with dealing with death and violent crime scenes on a consistent basis.

Additional Resources

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1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2015, Detectives and Criminal Investigators: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes333021.htm
2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Police and Detectives: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/police-and-detectives.htm