Police careers: Going from patrol to detective

For a patrol officer who wants to become a detective, knowing what to expect can help you plan your move more efficiently — and make it happen

Teresa Schmidt

By Teresa Schmidt
PoliceOne Guest Contributor

When patrol officers think about what’s next in their careers, many consider how to become a detective — and for good reason. With new challenges, higher pay and more prestige, becoming a detective is a natural step up the law enforcement career ladder.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a steady increase in employment for detectives, making the demand for police detectives and criminal investigators quite strong. It’s clear that the opportunity for job stability is a big advantage in becoming a detective.

A Day in the Life
If a detective salary looks appealing, what is the work actually like? You probably have an idea from observations you’ve made in your own work experience. The main difference between detectives and patrol officers is that detectives focus on crime solving by conducting investigations, rather than patrolling a designated area looking for suspicious activity.

Detectives may work for local, state or federal agencies, colleges and universities — even the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Postal Service. Detectives usually work in plainclothes, gathering facts and collecting evidence. They interview witnesses, suspects, and other individuals associated with a crime or a suspect. These skilled law enforcement professionals often specialize in homicide, fraud, drug or other distinct areas, and typically work on a case until an arrest and conviction is made.

Education Needed
Detectives have more responsibility and are required to obtain a higher level of education. Along with patrol officer experience and agency training, a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice is a one path to becoming a detective. Many departments, including federal agencies, only hire college graduates for detective positions.

When choosing the university for your criminal justice degree, consider not only the programs offered, but also whether you have the option to attend classes online. A criminal justice degree program online enables you to keep working and enroll in the classes you need to advance your career as your busy schedule allows.

If you choose to attend online classes, research your university options carefully. You’ll be investing a great deal of your time and money, so you’ll want to be sure you’re receiving the same level of quality education as on-campus students.

Accredited Universities
The best way to ensure that you’ll receive a quality education, along with a bachelor’s degree that will be recognized and respected when you’re applying for a promotion or new detective position, is to enroll in a regionally-accredited university. Accredited universities undergo rigorous inspections and reviews to make sure they fulfill the high standards of the accrediting agency. Regional accreditation is an even higher level of approval, recognized across the U.S.

Regional accreditation means that you can trust the curriculum, faculty and administration of the university. And when you’re ready to pursue an advanced degree in criminal justice, it means your credits will be much easier to transfer. In addition, most employers providing tuition assistance require students to attend regionally-accredited institutions.

Are You Ready?
Working toward a promotion from patrol officer to detective is a worthy goal. If your career plan includes enrolling in a criminal justice bachelor’s degree program, do your research and choose a high-quality program from a regionally-accredited university. With your solid police knowledge, advanced skills and a degree from a respected institution you’ll be well prepared to compete for any detective job.


About the Author
Teresa Schmidt is a freelance writer based in Seattle. Her interest is in writing various criminal justice degree and career resources , as well as articles on how to choose the right online degree program .

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