Police detective

A police detective


Police detectives gather and compile evidence which assists them in the solution of crimes. They use investigative techniques to gather evidence, and interview all parties connected to their line of enquiry, and cooperate with other police department divisions to gather the evidence.

Police detectives typically do the following:

  • Gather facts and collect evidence for criminal cases
  • Determine which people and pieces of information are credible
  • Conduct interviews
  • Examine records
  • Observe suspects
  • Participate in raids and arrests
  • Write detailed reports on findings
  • Testify in court

Other titles

The following job titles also refer to police detective:

detective inspector
detective superintendent
detective constable
chief detective

Working conditions

There’s some office work involved with being a police detective, but a majority of the work is out in the field.

Like most other jobs in law enforcement, a detective job can be dangerous at times, especially during conflict with criminals. Detective work can also be highly rewarding because each successful investigation makes the community safer.

Detectives usually work full time, at least 40 hours per week, and get overtime pay beyond that. Cases are typically assigned on a rotating basis since it is near impossible to determine how time-consuming a case will be when it first comes in. Detectives that have easier cases may volunteer to take additional cases when their colleagues are swamped. Detectives will also assist one another in research, evidence analysis, and interviewing.

Minimum qualifications

Police detectives normally begin as police officers and are promoted to detective. Because of this, education and training requirements for detectives are similar to those for police officers.

Like with entry-level police officer positions, there are written examinations built into the hiring process. Presumably, a police detective will have passed physical tests in the police officer hiring process. The differences between the police officer and police detective positions are the higher level investigation and interviewing skills required for detectives.

The educational requirements for detectives vary by police department and can range from a high school diploma to a bachelor’s degree.

Police officers, including detectives, usually must attend a training academy given by the department or agency where they want to work. They then usually complete a period of on-the-job training.

police detectives need experience in police work. Several years as a uniformed officer are necessary for detectives to have the basic knowledge and skills to do their work.

ISCO skill level

ISCO skill level is defined as a function of the complexity and range of tasks and duties to be performed in an occupation. It is measured on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 the lowest level and 4 the highest, by considering:

  • the nature of the work performed in an occupation in relation to the characteristic tasks and duties
  • the level of formal education required for competent performance of the tasks and duties involved and
  • the amount of informal on-the-job training and/or previous experience in a related occupation required for competent performance of these tasks and duties.

Police detective is a Skill level 3 occupation.

Police detective career path

Similar occupations

These occupations, although different, require a lot of knowledge and skills similar to police detective.

police inspector
private detective
immigration officer
criminal investigator
court bailiff

Long term prospects

These occupations require some skills and knowledge of police detective. They also require other skills and knowledge, but at a higher ISCO skill level, meaning these occupations are accessible from a position of police detective with a significant experience and/or extensive training.

police commissioner
intelligence officer
police trainer
correctional services manager
probation officer

Essential knowledge and skills

Essential knowledge

This knowledge should be acquired through learning to fulfill the role of police detective.

  • Criminology: The study of criminal behaviour, such as its causes and nature, its consequences, and control and prevention methods.
  • Law enforcement: The different organisations involved in law enforcement, as well as the laws and regulations in law enforcement procedures.
  • Legal use-of-force: The characteristics of the use-of-force, which is a legal doctrine employed by police and army forces, to regulate acts of violence during interventions. Use-of-force is ought to balance security needs with ethical concerns for the rights and well-being of intruders or suspects.
  • Investigation research methods: The methods and strategies used to conduct police, government intelligence or military investigation research, as well as the research regulations specific to the operation.

Essential skills and competences

These skills are necessary for the role of police detective.

  • Lead police investigations: Lead investigations in police cases, which involves establishing an investigation strategy, contacting experts, being able to use different methods and points of view, and leading investigative staff.
  • Develop investigation strategy: Develop strategies used in an investigation to gather information and intelligence in the most productive way, compliant with legislation, ensuring that the strategy is adapted to each individual case in order to obtain intelligence as efficiently and quickly as possible.
  • Handle evidence: Handle evidence important for a case in a manner compliant with regulations, in order to not affect the state of the evidence in question and to ensure its pristine condition and usability in the case.
  • Analyse legal evidence: Analyse evidence, such as evidence in criminal cases, legal documentation regarding a case, or other documentation that can be regarded as evidence, in order to obtain a clear image of the case and reach resolutions.
  • Form operational strategies for law enforcement: Form strategies to turn laws and regulations into operational goals and plans of action to ensure that the law is complied with and offenders receive the correct sentence, fine or other consequence.
  • Examine crime scenes: Examine crime scenes upon arrival to ensure they are not tampered with, and to perform the initial assessments and analyses of what may have occurred, as well as examining the nature of the evidence present.
  • Conduct research interview: Use professional researching and interviewing methods and techniques to gather relevant data, facts or information, to gain new insights and to fully comprehend the message of the interviewee.
  • Hear witness accounts: Hear witness accounts during a court hearing or during an investigation to assess the significance of the account, its impact on the case under scrutiny or investigation, and to aid in reaching a conclusion.
  • Maintain operational communications: Maintain communications between different departments of an organisation, between the staff, or during specific operations or missions, to ensure that the operation or mission is successful, or that the organisation functions smoothly.
  • Ensure law application: Ensure the laws are followed, and where they are broken, that the correct measures are taken to ensure compliance to the law and law enforcement.

Optional knowledge and skills

Optional knowledge

This knowledge is sometimes, but not always, required for the role of police detective. However, mastering this knowledge allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Legal requirements related to ammunition: Legal regulations and requirements in the field of selling, buying, handling and storing ammunition.
  • Criminal law: The legal rules, constitutions and regulations applicable for the punishement of offenders.
  • Legal research: The methods and procedures of research in legal matters, such as the regulations, and different approaches to analyses and source gathering, and the knowledge on how to adapt the research methodology to a specific case to obtain the required information.
  • First response: The procedures of pre-hospital care for medical emergencies, such as first aid, resuscitation techniques, legal and ethical issues, patient assessment, trauma emergencies.

Optional skills and competences

These skills and competences are sometimes, but not always, required for the role of police detective. However, mastering these skills and competences allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Restrain individuals: Restrain, or control by force, individuals who violate regulations in terms of acceptable behaviour, who present a threat to others, and who perform acts of violence, to ensure the individual is unable to proceed in this negative behaviour and to protect others.
  • Apply first response: Respond to medical or trauma emergencies and care for the patient in a manner compliant with health and safety regulations, assessing the legal and ethical issues of the situation, and provide proper pre-hospital care.
  • Drug investigations: Perform investigations to try and halt the distribution of drugs through illegal and criminal measures, as well as arrest the distributors of illegal drugs.
  • Present evidence: Present evidence in a criminal or civil case to others, in a convincing and appropriate manner, in order to reach the right or most beneficial solution.
  • Investigate forgery cases: Investigate the illegal altering, copying or imitation of articles or goods (for example currency, public records or works of art) used for criminal purposes.
  • Use personal protection equipment: Make use of protection equipment according to training, instruction and manuals. Inspect the equipment and use it consistently.
  • Ensure information security: Ensure that the information gathered during surveillance or investigations remains in the hands of those authorised to receive and use it, and does not fall into enemy or otherwise non-authorised individuals’ hands.
  • Ensure compliance with types of weapons: Use different kinds of firearms and other types of weapons and their matching ammunition, in compliance with legal requirements.
  • Control crowd: Control a crowd or riot, ensuring people do not cross to areas they are not allowed to access, monitoring the crowd’s behaviour and responding to suspicious and violent behaviour.
  • Apply knowledge of human behaviour: Practice principles related to group behaviour, trends in society, and influence of societal dynamics.
  • Identify security threats: Identify security threats during investigations, inspections, or patrols, and perform the necessary actions to minimise or neutralise the threat.
  • Write situation reports: Write reports according to specifications and regulations of an organisation on the situation which needs to be reported on, such as the status of an investigation, of intelligence gathering, or of missions and operations.
  • Detain offenders: Keep back offenders and trespassers in a certain area.
  • Practice vigilance: Practice vigilance during patrol or other surveillance activities in order to ensure safety and security, to look out for suspicious behaviour or other alarming changes in patterns or activities, and to respond quickly to these changes.
  • Conduct public presentations: Speak in public and interact with those present. Prepare notices, plans, charts, and other information to support the presentation.

ISCO group and title

3355 – Police inspectors and detectives

  1. Police detective – ESCO
  2. Police and Detectives : Occupational Outlook Handbook – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
  3. Police Detective Job Description: Salary, Skills, & More – Liveabout.com
  4. Police Detective Job description | Indeed
  5. Featured image: Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels
Last updated on December 28, 2022

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