What you'll do: When murders are committed, detectives go to the scene of the crime, talk with witnesses and check for evidence. The sooner they act on fresh information, the better their chances of solving a case. When not actively at the scene of a crime, homicide detectives review case files to look for clues or leads, or analyze the previous day's notes.
Degree you'll need: High school for police officers, college associate's or bachelor's degree for higher ranks. Law enforcement agencies may require additional training.
Median annual salary: $74,300*
Homicide detective careers are hot commodities.
If you want to start a homicide detective career, you must first begin as a police officer, working for at least three years on patrol. During that time, you'll need to get top marks for your work and have your commanding officer put in a request for you to join the homicide division.
When you're up for promotion, you'll normally first take a competitive promotional exam. If you pass, you can then choose to become either a sergeant and manage other patrol officers, or to become a detective and do investigative work.
A Day in the Life
The work that homicide detectives do in their careers can vary quite a bit from day to day. When a body is found right away, there are many clues to be gathered. Other times, it's long after a murder that a body is found, and there are fewer clues to go on. In this situation, it's only with more modern DNA tests that a homicide detective may be able to crack a case.
Homicide reports always need to be clear and accurate, and each lead needs to be exhausted if a homicide detective wants to be successful. But homicide detectives can't be experts in all areas. They need to build relationships with colleagues with different areas of expertise. Depending on the case, homicide detectives may consult with medical examiners, forensic anthropologists, entomologists or ballistics experts, among others.
Homicide Detective Education
A successful homicide detective career is built on a solid foundation of the right kind of training and education. While police officers only need a high school education to begin their career, most who aspire to the higher ranks in the police department have a college education. A degree in criminal justice will give you a great background for a homicide detective career and the quickest route to promotion.
The Demands of a Homicide Detective Career
Homicide detectives have many stories to tell, but their stories don't always portray the painstaking work needed to solve the ultimate puzzle. It's only with the proper training, years of on-the-job experience, and the humility and wisdom to learn from your mistakes that you'll develop an intuition and a system that works for you. As demanding as the job may be, many who work in homicide couldn't imagine doing anything else.
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15; Police and Detectives; National Criminal Justice Reference Service; authorsden.com.
*The salary information listed is based on a national average, unless noted. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.