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Do you have to become a Police Officer to become Detective?

I want to help make a difference and I feel like this career can help me pursue my dream. #help #career

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John’s Answer

You are correct Cassandra,
Your experience as a police officer could prepare you for higher positions in law enforcement, whether in the police department or another government agency. Police departments typically utilize a rank system, somewhat similar to the military. Ranks have names, such as officer, sergeant, lieutenant, and captain, but the exact ranks used and the order can differ from city to city. Promotion through the ranks of a department are primarily based on experience, with performance weighing more heavily the higher one progresses. Written exams are sometimes required for promotion. Promotions are generally accompanied by higher pay and may involve more responsibility, particularly in the form of supervision of lower-ranked officers. Upon achieving a certain level of rank, the opportunity to move into a specialization may become available. Policies vary from department to department, but a year or two after you've completed your probationary year, you might be eligible to make a lateral move into a specialty post, such as a K-9 unit, a detective or investigator, a training officer, a member of SWAT, or many other specialized positions. If you're really serious about taking your career as far as you can go, it's a good idea to get exposure to the many different units in your department. The majority of police detectives work on a full-time basis, and paid overtime is common. Detectives work in shifts 24 hours a day, and younger members of the team will likely work more night shifts in the beginning. The job of police detective comes with higher-than-average risk of personal injury or death. Detectives must be comfortable with guns and are almost always armed while on duty.

A police officer can become a detective or criminal investigator through promotion or college coursework, and by passing an exam. It's not a promotion of rank, but of job duties. Detectives and investigators, who may be uniformed or plainclothes, are generally assigned cases in a specific division, such as homicide, in which they do interviews, monitor suspects, collect and examine evidence, and participate in arrests. Experience as a regular patrol officer is needed beforehand.

Police who desire to work in federal government may consider joining the Unites States Marshal Service. Members of this agency engage in judiciary security, prisoner transport, fugitive apprehension, tactical operations, asset forfeiture, and witness protection programs. One must be willing to handle traveling and fieldwork as they are often essential to the job. For a police officer to transition to a U.S. Marshal, he or she must attain either a bachelor's degree, specialized experience, or a combo of both higher education and specialized experience. Many police officers are currently required to have a college degree, so they're already half-way there. Prospective applicants must also complete the basic training academy.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is another option for officers who want to work at the federal level, and many agents are actually ex-cops. Much like detectives and criminal investigators, FBI agents gather evidence, conduct forensic analyses, interview people, surveil suspects, make arrests, participate in raids, and so forth. The main difference is that the FBI deals with more serious and high-profile crimes, such as terrorist activities, cybercrime, and drug trafficking. A bachelor's degree and applicable work experience are necessary to qualify for the job. Completion of their training academy is required as well. Be prepared for long and irregular hours, demanding fieldwork, and a good amount of travel.

Good Luck Cassandra

John recommends the following next steps:

STEP 1) MEET BASIC REQUIREMENTS – All police departments require their police officers to have at least a high school diploma or equivalent. While some departments hire graduates right out of high school, most require potential officers to be at least 21 years old. Thus, students who are hired after high school must work and train until they are 21 in order to become an officer. Other basic prerequisites for police officers include being a U.S. citizen and having a valid driver's license and clean record.
STEP 2) COMPLETE YOUR UNDERGRADUATE EDUCATION Complete an associate or bachelor's degree program in criminal justice, law enforcement, or a related discipline. While this may not be required, it can be advantageous when vying for officer positions. State and federal agencies generally require their recruits to have a college education. Degree-holders also may advance their careers more rapidly than those without a relevant degree. Some departments will even provide tuition assistance to officers who seek degrees in pertinent fields.
STEP 3) ATTEND THE POLICE ACADEMY – Large police departments send recruits to their own police academies. Smaller precincts may send new hires to attend larger academies as well. Academy programs typically last 3-4 months and combine classroom and hands-on, physical training. Police academy training prepares prospective police officers for active duty. Therefore, recruits also gain supervised experience in facing real-life situations.
STEP 4) WORK AS A POLICE OFFICER – Before earning a promotion to a detective, individuals will need to work as a police officer for several years. Police officers are responsible for enforcing laws and responding to emergencies. The experience required to become a police detective varies by state or department. Request to work in an investigative unit, as a police officer working in the investigative unit, you will have an opportunity to work closely with detectives and help to solve crimes. You can experience working crime scenes and collecting evidence.
STEP 5) PASS THE DETECTIVE EXAMS FOR ADVANCEMENT – Some states or departments require that prospective detectives take and pass a comprehensive exam. This exam usually covers areas involving conflict management, decision-making, criminal law and procedures, forensic science, investigative techniques, and state laws.

Thank You for your continued support Dexter. Life is an echo. What you send out comes back. What you sow, you reap. What you give, you get. What you see in others, exists in you. John Frick

Thank You Joshua. “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” — Winston Churchill John Frick

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Kim’s Answer

Generally speaking, the answer is "yes." And you really wouldn't want it any other way. Being an officer helps you to develop "street smarts." You learn how people think. And it really might surprise you! It also gains you the respect of your peers, which in turn, helps you to develop a good working relationship with them.

There are some detective/investigator related jobs that are not tied to law enforcement. Some of these are in banks, where there is much fraud. Insurance fraud, welfare fraud. There are EEOC investigators who investigate complaints of discrimination and retaliation in the workplace. There are Fair Housing investigators. There are various investigator positions investigating environmental law violations, such as pollution of air and water. There are also non-profits that do some of their own investigating, perhaps ones committed to missing/exploited children; environmental ones, etc.

So, it all sort of depends on what you want. If the area that interests you is heavily regulated, there's a good chance there are civilian investigative positions. That being said, I don't know that one can get into these positions straight from college, without some more marketable experience on your resume.

Is there a reason you don't want to be a police officer? Have you thought of going into the military? You could go in enlisted and work in the JAG office, (law), and get a lot of relevant experience. Just an idea.

Please let me know if any of these ideas resonate with you, and we can discuss them further!

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Linda’s Answer

I think it's awesome that you want to make a difference! The answer to your question is: it depends.

- In many local police departments, becoming detective first depends on earning experience in the department as a police officer and completing a college degree or specialized training.
- To be a member of the Nebraska Trooper Investigative Services, you must first be a uniformed Trooper.
- You might consider being a Federal detective or agent, which will require a college degree but does not require you to be a police officer first. The Federal Marshal Service, Secret Service, and FBI are all federal detective agencies that accomplish similar functions.

Note: if you want to be a federal detective, it is critical that you make good life choices. Federal agents bear great responsibility in their positions, so they are held to an extremely high moral standard.

Linda recommends the following next steps:

Consider joining an Explorers or a similar program at your local police department to get a closer look at what they do
Take stock of what you are interested in learning about in college. Detectives and agents can work in specialized areas ranging from medical to psychology to cybercrimes.

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Joshua’s Answer


Good Luck!

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Bryce’s Answer

Hi Cassandra,

It awesome that you want to make a difference in the world, and we need more people who have that same drive in them getting into law enforcement. That being said in most cases you do have to become a police officer before becoming a detective. Although this may not be what you want to here, being a uniform police officer before will help you learn skills that will make you a better detective. I hope this helped you out, and I hope you can make a difference in law enforcement.