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A detective is an investigator, either a member of a law enforcement agency or a private person. The latter may be known as private investigators or "private eyes". Informally, and primarily in fiction, a Detective / Investigator is any licensed or unlicensed person who solves crimes, including historical crimes, or looks into records. 

In some police departments, a Detective / Investigator position is not appointed; it is a position achieved by passing a written test after a person completes the requirements for being a police officer. 

In many other police systems, Detective / Investigators are college graduates who join directly from civilian life without first serving as uniformed officers. Some people argue that Detective / Investigators do a completely different job and therefore require completely different training, qualifications, qualities and abilities than uniformed officers. The opposing argument is that without previous service as a uniformed patrol officer, a Detective / Investigator cannot have a great enough command of standard police procedures and problems and will find it difficult to work with uniformed colleagues. 

The Detective / Investigator branch in most large police agencies is organized into several squads or departments, each of which specializes in investigation into a particular type of crime or a particular type of undercover operation, which may include: homicide; robbery; burglary; auto theft; organized crimes; missing persons; juvenile crime; fraud; narcotics; vice; criminal intelligence; aggravated assault/battery; sexual assault; computer crime; domestic violence; surveillance; and arson, among others. 

In some countries, the practice of a Detective / Investigator is not yet recognized in courts and judicial processes. One of these countries where the proof presented loses all the significance when collected by a private Detective / Investigator. Even under this circumstance, the practice of this activity is in demand and ruled by a code of conduct.

Detective / Investigators have a wide variety of techniques available in conducting investigations. However, the majority of cases are solved by the interrogation of suspects and the interviewing of witnesses, which takes time. Besides interrogations, Detective / Investigators may rely on a network of informants they have cultivated over the years. Informants often have connections with persons a Detective / Investigator would not be able to approach formally. Evidence collection and preservation can also help in identifying a potential suspect(s). Criminal investigation: the investigation of criminal activity is conducted by the police. Criminal activity can relate to road use such as speeding, drunk driving, or to matters such as theft, drug distribution, assault, fraud, etc. When the police have concluded their investigation, a decision on whether to charge somebody with a criminal offence will often be made by prosecuting counsel having considered the evidence produced by the police.

In criminal investigations, once a Detective / Investigator has suspects in mind, the next step is to produce evidence that will stand up in a court of law. The best way is to obtain a confession from the suspect; usually, this is done by developing rapport and at times by seeking information in exchange for potential perks available through the attorney's office, such as entering for a lesser sentence in exchange for usable information. Detective / Investigators may lie, mislead and psychologically pressure a suspect into an admission or confession as long as they do this within procedural boundaries and without the threat of violence or promises outside their control.

Physical forensic evidence in an investigation may provide leads to closing a case. Forensic science (often shortened to forensics) is the application of a broad spectrum of sciences to answer questions of interest to the legal system. This may be in relation to a crime or to a civil action. Many major police stations in a city, county, or state, maintain their own forensic laboratories.

Detective / Investigators may use public and private records to provide background information on a subject. Police Detective / Investigators can search through files of fingerprint records. Police maintain records of people who have committed felonies and some misdemeanors. Detective / Investigators may search through records of criminal arrests and convictions, photographs or mug shots, of persons arrested, and motor vehicle records.

With a search warrant, police Detective / Investigators can also search through credit card records and bank statements, hotel registration information, credit reports, answer machine messages, phone conversations, surveillance camera footage, and technology used for communication.

Before becoming a Detective / Investigator, one must attend a law enforcement academy, providing the officer with a foundation of education with sixteen to twenty-four college units in criminal justice or administration of criminal justice. After graduation from the law enforcement academy, the officer undergoes job training with a field training officer for a period specified by the law enforcement agency and continues to work while on a probationary period, ranging from one to two years.

During the probationary period, the officer is assigned to look for evidence. During this time, the officer is supervised and mentored by a sergeant with years of experience. Some officers further their college education by attending a two-year or four-year college or university, attaining a degree in criminal justice or administration of criminal justice. Colleges have options for a concentration or certificate in a specialized field of criminal investigation.

Through years of on the job training, college education, officers may participate in a competitive examination, testing their knowledge, skills and abilities regarding criminal investigation, criminal procedure, interview and interrogation, search and seizure, collection and preservation of evidence, investigative report writing, criminal law, court procedure, and providing testimony in court. 

Competitive examinations are conducted by selected senior law enforcement officials. Following testing, a list of results is provided by the department. At the department's discretion, some, or all, of the officers on the list are promoted to the rank of Detective / Investigator. Some departments have classes of Detective / Investigators which increase the Detective / Investigator's rank after successful experience.

Private investigators are licensed by the state in which they work. Some states do not require licensing, but most states do. In addition to the state examination, applicants testing for a private investigation license must also meet stringent requirements which include college education, a range of two to four years of full-time investigation experience, and the successful adjudication of a criminal and civil background check conducted by state investigators. Private investigators are licensed to conduct civil and criminal investigations in the state they are licensed. They are protected by statutes of the state they are licensed. In states requiring licensure, there are statutes making it unlawful for any person to conduct a criminal investigation unless they are licensed by the state, or exempt by the statute (i.e. law enforcement officers or agents, attorneys, paralegals, claims adjusters).

Police Detective / Investigators, unlike police officers, don't wear a uniform, drive patrol cars, or patrol; instead, they spend much of their time compiling information and evidence for the cases they are assigned. They wear plain clothes, usually a suit and tie, and drive unmarked cars. Because police Detective / Investigator is a higher ranking and higher paid position than police officer, it requires more experience and knowledge.

Time spent as a patrol officer is usually mandatory before becoming eligible to pursue the position of Detective / Investigator. While a great deal of knowledge is learned on the job, further training and education in investigative techniques are required to make Detective / Investigator. This training and education are specified by the department that employs the aspiring Detective / Investigator. Much of a Detective / Investigator's time is spent on investigation and paperwork, but they are expected to maintain a certain level of physical fitness. Police Detective / Investigators interview suspects, witnesses, and victims as they try to piece together the story of how the crime that they are investigating occurred.

Detective / Investigators work closely with their jurisdiction's Crime Scene Investigation Unit (CSI), which gathers the forensic evidence police Detective / Investigators need to work their cases. They will continue to work diligently on a case until it is solved or until they can go no further with the evidence and other information they have gathered.

Police Detective / Investigators are like victim advocates, doing everything they can to get justice for them while keeping them appraised of the progress of their case.

General Detective / Investigators do just as the name implies, general investigation, whereas the others specialize in certain types of crime. Homicide Detective / Investigators focus on cases involving suspicious deaths. Once they rule a death is not by accident or suicide, but in fact a murder, they then proceed to delve further into the case and work until they either solve it or can go no further. They work closely with their CSI unit, which collects, analyzes, and reports the physical evidence, freeing up the Detective / Investigator's time to focus on suspects and witnesses.

Financial crimes Detective / Investigators focus on the growing problem of white collar crime. While no one is physically harmed in the commission of a financial crime, victims are damaged or devastated financially. Financial and white collar crimes include fraud such as check or mortgage fraud, money laundering, embezzlement, identity theft, and bribery. Drug enforcement Detective / Investigators handle illegal drug related cases involving drug trafficking, sales, and possession. They work primarily with their local department but team up with members of state and federal drug enforcement when necessary. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is a federal agency that enforces the laws and regulations concerning controlled substances. The DEA employs Agents, which is what usually comes to mind when thinking of the DEA, as well as Diversion Investigators, Chemists, Fingerprint Specialists, and Intelligence Research Specialists. Having Detective / Investigators that focus on specific crimes helps cut down on having them spread thin, while allowing them to hone their skills in their specialty; thus, they are more effective in their jobs and have the ability to solve and prevent crime. To learn more about crimes and criminal intent, check out our criminal minds article series. Regardless of the type of Detective / Investigator, thorough documentation is imperative and require in all aspects of any Detective / Investigators case file.

One common way to become a more competitive candidate for Detective / Investigator is to start by completing a criminal justice bachelor's degree, then while gaining valuable on-the-job experience, continue working on your education via an online criminal justice degree at the masters level.

In order to make Detective / Investigator, you must first serve as a police officer for a certain period of time, (depending on the precinct in which you are employed, generally 1 to 5 years), and complete further training, including physical, tactical, and general education preferably at the masters degree level. Police Detective / Investigators interact with police officers, who are usually first on the scene of a crime, the forensics unit, which will gather the physical evidence at the crime scene, then the forensic laboratory, which will analyze the evidence. They may meet personally or receive written reports.

A Detective / Investigator is someone who is employed to investigate persons suspected of crime, or to get other evidence that is not readily available. Generally, the work of a Detective / Investigator involves at least the possibility of legal action. In criminal cases, his work may help establish guilt or prove innocence. In civil cases, no major law firm operates without a skilled investigator.

Most Detective / Investigators are employed by governments for criminal investigations or other security procedures in connection with regular police service, and are therefore public policemen assigned to Detective / Investigator duty on a temporary or permanent basis. So-called "private Detective / Investigators" (or private investigators—the preferred term) are engaged and paid by firms or individuals.

The term "Detective / Investigator" was originally applied to various members of the police establishment who operated in plain clothes, and whose task was to infiltrate criminal gangs and conduct surveillances of suspected and known criminals. Because die Detective / Investigator's mode of operation often involved fraud and misrepresentation, "Detective / Investigators" developed a dubious public image. They were often held up to ridicule in literature, although famous "Detective / Investigators" in fiction include the great Sherlock Holmes.

Use of the term "Detective / Investigator" has diminished. It is often replaced in the United States by terms such as special agent (Federal Bureau of Investigation), agent (Treasury or Secret Service), investigator (state bureaus of investigation), criminalist (chemist in a crime laboratory), operative (private investigator), examiner (government fact finder), or inspector (arson squad).

Regardless of what he is called, the Detective / Investigator should be a fact finder. If he is on the homicide squad in a large police department, he may interview witnesses at the scene. A Detective / Investigator on the burglary detail may take plaster casts of jimmy marks on a window that has been pried open, for subsequent comparison with a suspect's pry bar. A Secret Service agent may "tail" persons suspected of passing counterfeit money, or he may examine the medical records of a person who has threatened the life of the president of the United States.

An FBI agent may "lift" latent fingerprints from a carton of cigarettes taken from a truck in interstate commerce, or he may sit on a stakeout waiting for kidnappers to exchange a victim for a ransom. He may have already listed the serial numbers of the bills used in the payment so that diey can be identified when circulated. The civil service investigator may interview previous employers, teachers, and neighbors of an applicant for government work. 

A private investigator working for a private law firm may follow a spouse in a divorce case or discreetly investigate a key witness. He may locate and interview witnesses to an automobile accident or photograph the vehicles so that a forensic physicist can reach an opinion on the angle of impact and possibly on speed. The training of Detective / Investigators combines practical investigation with modern police science. A Detective / Investigator's work in a crime detection laboratory may range from the comparison of signatures on forged checks to employment of neutron activation analysis to see whether hairs at the scene of a robbery are from the head of the suspect.

Detective / Investigators and criminal investigators typically do the following:

  • Investigate crimes
  • Collect and secure evidence from crime scenes
  • Conduct interviews with suspects and witnesses
  • Observe the activities of suspects
  • Obtain warrants and arrest suspects
  • Write detailed reports and fill out forms
  • Prepare cases and testify in court
Detective / Investigators perform investigative duties, such as gathering facts and collecting evidence.

Detective / Investigators investigate crimes. They also search for and apprehend criminals. Unlike patrol officers, Detective / Investigators spend their days following up on crimes that have already been committed, as opposed to actively patrolling to prevent crime.

Police Detective / Investigators perform a number of job functions, including:
  • Crime scene investigation
  • Evidence collection
  • Witness interviews
  • Report writing
  • Record keeping
  • Courtroom testimony
  • Preparing arrest warrants
  • Writing probable cause affidavits
  • Preparing and executing search warrants
  • Arresting criminals

Depending on the agency, criminal investigators may work Monday through Friday, unlike uniformed officers who often work rotating shifts. However, because crime happens at all hours, Detective / Investigators are subject to call-out and are often required to respond to crime scenes at odd hours.


Detective / Investigators and criminal investigators may specialize in specific crimes, such as:
  • Crimes against persons
  • Property crimes
  • Homicide
  • Sex crimes
  • White collar crimes

When first called out to investigate a case, a criminal investigator can expect to work long hours. It is imperative to gather as much fresh evidence as possible and to track every fresh lead as soon as practical. As a result, it is not uncommon to work up to 20 hours straight, or more, after initially responding to a scene. Detective / Investigators and criminal investigators should also be able to deal compassionately with people. They should feel comfortable speaking with witnesses and suspects. They should also be prepared to answer questions and deal with grieving families and to work closely with other components of law enforcement and of the criminal justice system, such as forensic science technicians. Detective / Investigators need to be able to take control of a crime scene and feel comfortable directing investigations and other officers at the scene.

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