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How to Become a Police Officer and Detective | A Step-by-Step Guide


Becoming a police officer or detective can be an exciting and rewarding career choice. It is essential to understand the process of becoming a law enforcement professional and the different requirements for each role.

This article will discuss how to become a police officer and detective in your area. We will also provide information on the different job duties and requirements for each position.

What Is a Police Officer and Detective?

A police officer patrols a particular area to prevent crime. They also arrest criminals. A detective investigates crimes, gathers evidence, and interviews witnesses.

To become a police officer or detective, you’ll need to complete an education in law enforcement from an accredited school. You may also need some on-the-job training.

Some typical duties of police officers and detectives include:

  • Patrolling an area
  • Responding to calls for assistance
  • Conducting investigations
  • Issuing citations or arrests
  • Testifying in court proceedings
  • Writing arrest reports

What It’s Like Being a Police Officer and Detective

Being a police officer and detective can be both rewarding and challenging. As a police officer, you may find yourself working under challenging conditions, such as inclement weather or during dangerous situations.

You may also face challenges related to inconsistent schedules, shift work, and long hours on duty. However, the job provides an adrenaline rush that many people seek.

You’ll be responsible for protecting your community. Police officers are needed throughout the world to ensure the safety of citizens everywhere.

Police officers and detectives are responsible for enforcing the law and maintaining public order. They may investigate crimes, arrest criminals, testify in court cases, or conduct traffic stops to ensure that drivers follow road safety rules.

Police officers spend much time patrolling neighborhoods on foot or by car while looking for suspicious activity. They also respond to calls from citizens reporting accidents or criminal behavior such as burglary, robbery, or assault.

In addition, detectives may need excellent observation skills and a curious mind when conducting investigations of crimes. Detectives spend time interviewing suspects and witnesses while searching through physical evidence. These include fingerprints and DNA samples from blood or hair left at a crime scene.

Roles of a Police Officer and Detective

The duties of these law enforcement agents cover a broad range. Some officers work indoors at the police station. Other officers spend their days outside. Below we list some of the different duties of police officers and detectives.

Patrolling an Assigned Area

Police officers and detectives may patrol on foot or in a car. With the use of marked vehicles, they protect their assigned area from crime.

As police officers and detectives patrol an assigned area, they make regular stops to check for problems like traffic issues, suspicious activities, and any signs of criminal activity. As much as possible, they try to prevent potential crimes from happening. They also respond immediately when emergencies occur, such as car accidents or fires.

Suppose criminals are found committing a crime during their patrol duty hours. In that case, it’s up to them whether they will pursue these criminals or remain at the scene. This depends on how dangerous it is for them and others around them.

If suspects are driving, police officers and detectives may follow them and stop the vehicle by using a siren or flashing lights. They will also call for backup police support if they encounter dangerous situations that can put their lives at risk.

When not on patrol duty, police officers perform community duties and traffic control activities. These include directing traffic along streets with construction work. In addition, they escort vehicles carrying money or valuable items from one place to another while ensuring everyone’s safety during this transportation process.

Responding to Emergency and Non-Emergency Calls

Police officers and detectives respond to emergency calls from people who need immediate help. They also assist victims of domestic violence, child abuse, and kidnapping, as well as car accidents where there’s property damage involved.

Police officers handle traffic issues. Such problems can involve vehicle breakdowns on the road or abandoned cars with flat tires blocking other motorists in their path.

They also direct traffic during events like outdoor concerts where large crowds gather. Police officers and detectives are always on the go to ensure that everyone is safe. Regardless of the time, they are always prepared to help those who need it.

No one knows when an emergency will happen. This is why police officers and detectives are always on standby, waiting for the next call. Whether it’s a missing person, domestic violence situation, or a car accident, they’re always prepared to deal with any situation that comes up.

Investigating Crimes and Gathering Evidence

Police officers and detectives investigate crimes by gathering evidence from a crime scene. They collect fingerprints, fibers, hair samples, bloodstains, or any other physical evidence left behind at these scenes.

Additionally, they interview witnesses to determine what happened during the incident. With the evidence, they then write police reports for the courts as testimony.

Making Arrests and Testifying in Court

Police officers and detectives make arrests when they believe someone has committed a crime. They then take these individuals into custody until their court hearing date. The arrested individuals will then answer for their alleged crimes before an impartial judge or jury.

In addition, police officers and detectives may also testify during trials as expert witnesses if needed.

Police officers may also be assigned specialized tasks, such as working with a K-nine unit or conducting drug investigations. Detectives typically have more investigative duties than police officers, such as interviewing witnesses and suspects, examining records, and analyzing evidence. They may also be responsible for presenting their findings in court.

Steps Needed to Become a Police Officer and Detective

You need to take various crucial steps to become a police officer and detective.

Step 1: Graduate from High School

The first thing you need to do is to graduate from high school. Suppose you can’t afford to go through a four-year college degree program. In that case, you should join the military. Military experience provides a solid background for future police officers or detectives. Another path is to attend community college and take relevant courses.

Some students may pursue volunteer opportunities with their local police departments, civic organizations, or federal agencies to acquire real-world experience in the field.

Step 2: Earn a Degree in Criminal Justice or a Related Field

Earning a degree in criminal justice or a related field is the next step to becoming a police officer and detective. Most employers require that candidates for patrol officer positions possess at least an associate’s degree from an accredited institution.

In addition, aspiring detectives must complete formal training requirements. These include earning college credit hours in subjects like behavioral sciences and sociology.

Students may also choose to specialize their studies by completing coursework focusing on forensics, computers, accounting, or investigation techniques.

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Step 3: Enroll in a Police Academy and Gain Investigative Experience

Those who wish to become police detectives must first gain investigative experience by becoming a patrol officer. Aspiring officers may be required to complete training at the state or local level, typically lasting between 12 and 14 weeks.

Next, students must pass the Police Officer Entrance Exam (POEE). This exam comprises several sections, including reading comprehension, report writing skills, and grammar.

Step 4: Take the Police Detective Test or Get Certified Professionally

Once you’ve fulfilled the requirements to become a detective, many law enforcement agencies require that candidates pass an entrance examination.

The police detective test measures an individual’s ability to think critically and solve problems. The exam also assesses one’s knowledge of investigative techniques and understanding of criminal justice concepts.

Alternatively, some agencies may prefer applicants to be certified by professional organizations such as the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) or the American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS).

Step 5: Attain Local Credential Requirements

Police detectives may also be required to earn a license, certificate, or other forms of credential. These requirements vary based on the jurisdiction in which one practice and their area of specialization.

Most job vacancies require candidates to complete continuing education coursework throughout their careers. This is to ensure they maintain licensure and stay up-to-date on relevant trends in the field.

What Skills Does a Person Need in this Career?

One of the most critical skills you need to become a police officer or detective is critical thinking. This means being able to analyze situations and come up with solutions. Other essential skills include:

Good communication skills, Both Oral and Written

Communicating respectfully and effectively is vital, as police officers must talk with people in difficult situations. Many employers require applicants to possess solid writing skills to produce high-quality reports.

The Ability to Work Independently as well as Part of a Team

Most police officers work in small teams. To become a detective, you need to prove that you can follow directions and be a team player before leading others. This means being able to work with diverse people and personalities effectively.

Detectives often have cases that they must solve without the help of other officers or anyone else at times. This is why they need to be independent thinkers who know how and when to ask for help if needed.

Strong Problem-Solving Skills

Being able to solve problems quickly is essential for police officers and detectives. There are times when they will have to make decisions that could save lives or catch criminals. This means thinking on their feet in high-pressure situations.

A High Level of Integrity and Ethical Standards

A police captain expects their officers to act with honesty, trustworthiness, and reliability. They should never use their power for personal gain or commit crimes while in uniform. Such actions could ruin the reputation of the entire police force.

The Ability to Stay Calm Under Pressure

Police officers and detectives often find themselves in dangerous or high-stress situations. They need to stay calm under pressure and think clearly to make the best decisions possible.

The Ability to Handle Difficult Situations and People Calmly and Effectively

Police officers and detectives have to deal with many difficult situations on duty. They also need to handle people who may not want their help or could even be hostile towards them.

For example, a police officer might encounter someone in distress who doesn’t want assistance. The person may be like that because of past traumatic experiences that make it hard to trust others. In these types of cases, an officer or detective needs to empathize with what this person is going through.

A Good Knowledge of the Law

Police officers and detectives also need to know the law to do their jobs effectively. They also need to be up-to-date on any changes to the law to keep informed about what is happening in their jurisdiction.

Police officers and detectives may also need to testify in court as witnesses or experts on different cases. This means explaining what happened during an investigation or arrest. They should do this easily for everyone else to understand — especially a jury.

Familiarity with Firearms and Other Weapons

Police officers and detectives need to be familiar with firearms and other weapons to use them safely and effectively when necessary. They may also have to use non-lethal weapons, such as tasers or pepper spray to control a situation.

In addition, they often participate in firearm training exercises to stay up-to-date on the latest safety procedures. This is especially important since they may have to use their firearms in dangerous situations.

First Aid Certification

Police officers and detectives are often the first on the scene when there has been an accident. This means that they need to provide basic medical assistance until paramedics arrive and take over the care of any injured persons.

They may also have to administer CPR if someone isn’t breathing properly after being shot with a stun gun or pepper spray canister. In the line of duty, an officer might need to subdue a person with a stun gun or pepper spray. Suppose that person has a reaction to these defensive measures. Then, an office would need to know first aid to help them.

What Education Does a Person Need to Pursue this Career?

A person needs to have a high school diploma or equivalent to pursue a career as a police officer. However, some departments may require an associate’s degree or higher. The most common degree pursued by those who want to become detectives is a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. Many schools across the country offer criminal justice programs.

To become a detective, you will need to have at least three years of experience as a police officer. There are many ways to gain this experience. Some departments may allow you to transfer your experience from another agency.

You should also be aware that there are different requirements for detectives in each state. For example, in California, a detective must be at least 21 years old and have completed two years of service as a sworn peace officer.

The best way to find out the specific requirements for detectives in your area is by contacting your local law enforcement agency or department. They can provide you with the information you need and help you take the necessary steps to pursue this career.

Beneficial Degrees for Police & Detectives

The diverse nature of police work means that you can study different areas in your quest to become a police officer or detective. Below we explore some options.

Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice

To become a police officer, you need to have either an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. The criminal justice field offers many degree programs that include coursework in criminology, ethics, and law enforcement methods. However, most departments prefer candidates who hold a four-year degree from an accredited college or university.

After graduating, you can also study computer science or accounting if you want to work for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). That’s because these areas help solve white-collar crimes. A bachelor’s degree takes about four years to complete and will set you on your way towards becoming a detective.

Bachelor’s Degree in Forensic Science

Forensic science is another degree that can be beneficial when becoming a police officer or a detective. This study area prepares you for work in crime labs, where you will analyze evidence to help solve crimes. Coursework typically includes topics such as DNA analysis, ballistics, and fingerprinting. A forensic science degree also takes about four years to complete. It can lead to exciting careers like being a crime scene investigator or working in the FBI’s scientific research department.

Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology

A bachelor’s degree in psychology is also quite beneficial in this career. If you have a particular interest in criminal behavior, this field of study may be for you. You will learn about the human mind and how it works through abnormal psychology and cognitive neuroscience courses. Studying forensic psychology is another option that focuses on victimology, witness testimony, psychopathology, and criminal profiling.

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Public Administration Degree

A public administration degree can also help you become a detective. This field of study teaches you about the inner workings of government and how to manage organizations effectively. It is beneficial for those who want to work in law enforcement at the city or state level. Coursework may include budgeting, human resources management, and public policy analysis. A bachelor’s degree in public administration typically takes four years to complete.

Business Administration Degree

A business administration degree is also beneficial in this career. Many detectives work on white-collar cases that involve fraud, embezzlement, money laundering, and other high-profile crimes. If you want to specialize in these areas of study, a business administration major may be right for you. Typical coursework includes accounting principles and finance management. A bachelor’s degree takes about four years to complete. Still, it can help set you apart from other candidates when applying for a job.

Special Certifications for Police and Detectives

Of the many types of law enforcement careers, most of them require special certifications. We detail some of these certificates below.

Certified Legal Investigator (CLI)

To become a police officer or detective, you might need to become certified as a legal investigator. The American Society of Legal Investigators offers the Certified Legal Investigator (CLI) credential. Law enforcement professionals who specialize in investigative work pursue this certification.

To qualify as a CLI, applicants must have at least three years of full-time investigative experience. They must also pass an exam covering several topics listed below:

  • Criminal investigation procedures
  • Civil litigation
  • Evidence gathering
  • Analysis
  • Interviewing techniques
  • Report writing

Police Detective (PDET) 200 Series Certifications

The International Association of Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysts (IALEIA) offers three different levels of Police Detective certifications. These credentials recognize law enforcement professionals who have earned specialized training and experience in the field.

To qualify for any of these certifications, candidates must meet education or experience qualifications and pass a certification exam that covers topics such as:

  • Crime scene management
  • Physical evidence collection
  • Investigative techniques
  • Evidence analysis and processing procedures
  • State criminal law statutes relating to investigations
  • Federal regulations affecting police investigations
  • Forensic science services

ASIS International Law Enforcement Liaison Council

The ASIS International Law Enforcement Liaison Council offers several certifications for law enforcement professionals. These credentials recognize candidates’ knowledge, skills, and experience in this field. To qualify for these credentials, applicants must meet education or experience requirements and pass a certification exam.

Physical Security Professional (PSP)

This credential helps security guards sharpen their physical security expertise. Professionals with this certification may work as police officers or detectives.

Work Environment for Police Officers & Detectives

Police officers and detectives work in all kinds of weather. They are often required to sit for long periods while they write reports. Some police officers and detectives must work irregular hours, including nights, weekends, and holidays.

Police officers have a dangerous job involving frequent contact with criminals who may be armed or violent. Detectives spend much of their time at crime scenes conducting investigations. Some travel is required if assigned to other areas of jurisdiction or out-of-state cases.

Some police officers and detectives work for federal, state, or local government agencies, while others work for private security firms.

Police officers and detectives work in all kinds of weather. They are often required to sit for long periods while they write reports. Some police officers and detectives must work irregular hours, including nights, weekends, and holidays.

Police officers have a dangerous job involving frequent contact with criminals who may be armed or violent. Detectives spend much of their time at crime scenes conducting investigations. Some travel is required if assigned to other areas of jurisdiction or out-of-state cases.

Some police officers and detectives work for federal, state, or local government agencies, while others work for private security firms.

Benefits of Being a Police Officer & Detective

There are many benefits to becoming a police officer or detective. Some of these benefits include:

  • Opportunity to save lives — You get the chance to help people when they need it the most and make a difference in your community.
  • Paid vacation — Most police departments offer paid vacation days.
  • Law enforcement bond — You join a brotherhood of officers in your department and across the country.
  • Protecting property — Working as a police officer or detective means you’ll be able to protect businesses, homes, schools, and public places from crime.
  • 401k retirement plan — Police officers often have the opportunity to enroll in a 401k retirement plan.
  • Tuition reimbursement — Some police departments also offer tuition reimbursement for further education.
  • Job security — One of the most significant benefits of being a police officer is job security. Unlike many other jobs, police departments are not likely to go out of business or lay off employees abruptly.

Drawbacks of Being a Police Officer & Detective

As with any career, law enforcement officers have challenges in their line of duty. These include:

  • The hours are long, and the pay is not always great.
  • It can be challenging to deal with people who do not want to obey the law.
  • You never know when you might face a life-threatening situation.

Police Officer & Detective Salary

According to a 2020 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for police officers and detectives was $67,290. The overall employment should grow 7% from 2020 to 2030. This is faster than the average for any occupation out there.

Over the next decade, projections show that every year will have approximately 67,100 job openings for police officers and detectives on average. Most of those openings will come from replacing workers that transfer to different jobs or exit the labor workforce. Many well-paying jobs exist for those in the criminal justice field.

Advancement Opportunities for Police & Detectives

There are many opportunities for advancement within the police department. After gaining experience as a police officer, you can advance to a detective or other investigative position.

It can take many years before an officer becomes a detective. It requires solid investigative experience. Sometimes promotion to detective comes through competitive examinations rather than through seniority alone. However, both routes are common.

Those with experience and an interest in management and leadership can pursue supervisory positions. Many officers eventually retire from their work after 25 or more years of service. Still, they may find that they are eligible for other law enforcement jobs such as security guard or investigator.

What Is Needed to Advance in this Career Field

Police officers who want to advance in their careers can do so in several ways. You can transfer into specialized law enforcement or administration areas.

Detectives see promotion to an officer’s rank after demonstrating investigative ability and spending at least three years as a patrol officer.

Promotion beyond detective requires a college degree because it demonstrates good judgment, analytical skills, and leadership potential. Most police departments require some college certificate or degree before they’re even allowed to take the entrance exam.

However, often an associate’s degree is all that is needed unless you plan to work your way up through the ranks to chief of police. A bachelor’s or master’s degree in criminology or a related field may also help you advance in this career.


Becoming a police officer or a detective offers rewards and challenges. Becoming a detective requires more education and experience. You must first start as a police officer.

You do not need extensive training or education to become a police officer. However, you will have to follow the steps listed previously in this article. Other actions on your path to becoming a police officer include:

  • Physical fitness tests
  • Written examinations
  • Background check
  • Psychological evaluation

On the other hand, being a detective requires at least a college degree. Some departments may also require their candidates to possess master’s degrees in criminal justice or related fields.

Many great online programs will help you prepare to become a police officer. Suppose you find you love this line of work and want to advance and become a detective. Then you can search GetEducated for online programs in criminal justice or related fields to meet the educational requirements.

Your future is up to you. GetEducated is here to help.

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