How to Become a Homicide Detective: Career Guide


Updated May 17, 2024 · 5 Min Read

Interested in becoming a homicide detective? Use our guide to learn what it takes to pursue this vital law enforcement career. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Are you ready to discover your college program?

Policing and law enforcement professionals play an essential role in the criminal justice system. They uphold the law, keep people safe, stop and respond to crime, and play a part in making sure that justice is served.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 3% job growth for police and detectives between 2022 and 2032, which is as fast as the national average for all occupations. Homicide detectives are specialized law enforcement professionals whose main role is helping to solve murder cases. They also perform various other policing duties.

Keep reading to learn more about what homicide detectives do and how to become one.

Popular Online Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

What Is a Homicide Detective?

A homicide detective is a specialized type of criminal investigator who focuses on solving murders. Some homicide detectives work on new cases, while others investigate cold cases.

Being a homicide detective can be stressful, physically demanding, and mentally and emotionally difficult. These professionals often see horrible crimes and the worst of humanity. However, it can also be a rewarding career, helping victims and their families get justice and keeping the public safe.

They work alongside forensic technicians and forensic scientists, crime scene investigators, and other police officers. They may also work with prosecutors and their assistants, particularly when a case goes to trial and they need to testify in court, explaining their work on the case.

Daily Tasks and Responsibilities

In general, a homicide detective's duties include:

  • Gathering evidence
  • Processing crime scenes
  • Canvassing for witnesses
  • Interviewing witnesses, victims, and first responders
  • Corroborating witness statements
  • Conducting online research
  • Apprehending suspects
  • Preparing evidence for court
  • Testifying at trials

Where Do Homicide Detectives Work?

Homicide detectives work for local, state, and federal government agencies and departments. This includes police departments, sheriff's offices, and even the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Other federal agencies that employ homicide detectives include the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Sometimes homicide detectives need to travel for work. They must go where the evidence takes them, follow promising leads, and investigate suspects even when that means going out of town. When homicide detectives work a case, required overtime hours are common.

The nature of the job also requires that homicide detectives are available and on call whenever they're needed.

How to Become a Homicide Detective

Homicide Detective Career Path Overview

  1. Get an education, such as a degree in criminal justice.
  2. Apply for a job as a police officer.
  3. Complete police academy training.
  4. Gain several years of on-the-job experience as a patrol officer.
  5. Take and pass the promotional exam.
  6. Be promoted to detective.


Homicide detectives typically do not need a college degree to land a job. Most homicide detective jobs require a high school diploma or its equivalent and police academy training, which we discuss below.

Some federal agencies may require or prefer applications with a college degree or some college coursework. Coursework or a bachelor's in criminal justice can provide excellent preparation for a career as a homicide detective. Other relevant majors include security and protective service, or social science.

Police Academy Training

Most homicide detectives start out in law enforcement as police and patrol officers before working their way up to detective. To become a police officer, candidates must successfully complete police academy training at the agency where they want to work.

Police academy training usually entails classroom instruction focused on state, local, and constitutional law; police ethics; and civil rights. Other topics covered at the academy include traffic control, emergency response, firearm use, and patrol.

To work in federal law enforcement, prospective candidates usually need more intensive training, which takes place at a Federal Law Enforcement Training Center or at the U.S. Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Virginia.

On-the-Job Experience and Promotion

Homicide detectives usually start their law enforcement careers as police officers. They work their way up to detective over time, once they gain relevant on-the-job experience.

Requirements for on-the-job experience and what it takes to get a promotion vary by police department and agency. For example, the FBI requires its special agents to have at least two years of full-time work experience, or a master's degree or higher plus one year of full-time experience.

In addition to a specified amount of work experience performed satisfactorily, police officers typically must pass a written exam to earn a promotion. In some cases, applicants for advancement to lieutenant or higher may need a bachelor's degree.

Other Requirements

Other requirements for homicide detectives vary by employer, but typically they must be at least 21 years old, hold a valid driver's license, and pass a criminal background check. Some criminal convictions, especially felonies or drug use, may disqualify candidates from becoming a homicide detective.

What Skills Do You Need to Be a Homicide Detective?

Homicide detectives need both hard and soft skills to succeed in this stressful and physically demanding role. Many of the skills that can help workers succeed in other fields are also important in police work. We've highlighted some of the most important skills you need to be a homicide detective below.

Physical strength and physical stamina: Homicide detectives need physical strength to help people and deal with suspects. The day-to-day demands of the job require peak physical health.

Communication skills: Detectives need clear communication skills so that the public understand what they are asking or saying about criminal incidents.

Good judgment: Homicide detectives must make important decisions that can impact public safety.

Empathy: Homicide detectives need to be able to empathize with victims and members of the public.

Homicide Detective Salary and Career Outlook

The BLS doesn't collect data specifically for homicide detectives. It does, however, collect information about detectives and criminal investigators generally.

In May 2023, the median annual salary for detectives and criminal investigators was $91,100. The top-paying states and average salaries for this career include Alaska ($121,770), Hawaii ($121,000), and Maryland ($119,900). California and New York also offer high annual average salaries for detectives and criminal investigators.

The job outlook for detectives and criminal investigators is projected at 1% growth between 2022 and 2032, which is slower than the national average of 3% across all occupations. The BLS expects about 64,500 job openings for police and detectives each year between 2022 and 2032.

Career Advancement for Homicide Detectives

Law enforcement jobs are usually part of a hierarchical structure of ranks that start at police officer at the lowest level and go up to chief of police at the highest level. Specific rankings vary by police department, but may include sergeant, lieutenant, captain, commander, and deputy chief.

In some cases, a homicide detective can advance to higher levels of the same job. For example, the Los Angeles Police Department has three detective ranks: detective I, detective II, and detective III.

Becoming a homicide detective is usually a promotion from the lower rank of police officer. To advance further in their career, a homicide detective usually needs experience on the job and to pass a written exam.

Professional Resources

Founded in 1988, this organization helps members by offering training, networking, leadership, and resources to help solve homicide cases.

This professional group supports homicide and death investigators across North America by offering conferences and training for members.

This organization for homicide investigators working in California offering networking opportunities, training, and investigative resources and expertise.

Frequently Asked Questions About Homicide Detectives

Is homicide detective a good career?

Working as a homicide detective can be a good advancement opportunity for someone who wants a career in law enforcement. Although it can be stressful and physically demanding, detectives and criminal investigators made a median annual wage of $91,100 compared to $72,280 for police and sheriff's patrol officers in May 2023, according to the BLS.

What are the dangers of being a homicide detective?

Homicide detectives face inherent dangers due to the nature of their work, and the career can be physically demanding and stressful. Police officers and detectives face some of the highest rates of on-the-job injuries compared to all other occupations, and detectives must be prepared to use deadly force if the need arises. Homicide detectives also face significant mental and emotional strain from the stress of dealing with violent crime and death.

How many hours do homicide detectives work?

Homicide detectives often work irregular schedules due to the unique demands of a role in law enforcement. Almost all detectives work full time, and overtime hours are very common. Detectives may need to be on call at any time of day, given that criminal activity rarely follows a conventional schedule. Certain tasks, such as conducting surveillance of suspects, may also need to take place at irregular hours.

What is the youngest age you can become a detective?

The BLS reports that police officers and detectives usually must be at least 21 years old to qualify for the job. Most detectives start out as police officers and work their way up to become detectives after accumulating extensive experience, so most detectives are significantly older than 21.

What is the difference between a cop and a detective?

Detectives usually start their careers as police officers, or cops, then work their way up over time. In this sense, detectives have a higher rank and more responsibilities than cops. Detectives usually focus on more serious crimes and spend their time collecting evidence and performing investigations.

Latest Posts is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Take the next step toward your future.

Discover programs you’re interested in and take charge of your education.