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What does a typical day as a criminal investigator consist of?

I realize that being a criminal investigator isn't exactly how it's show on the media, so what is it really like?

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Robert’s Answer

Boring, tedious, and sometimes heartbreaking if you're a police investigator. A strong background in writing is a must as you'll be documenting details and events and writing reports. If you like puzzles then you'll do well.
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Nick’s Answer

Hello Elizabeth! Great question! As you noted, daily work as an investigator is often far less dramatic than what film producers show you. However, a huge factor in this depends on what type of investigations are being conducted. I’ll discuss this from a criminal investigator point of view.

The day often consists of regular phone calls and emails, following up with victims, suspects, and prosecutors to gather more information on a case. But those communications don’t stop there. You’re constantly chasing officers down, asking for additional information, videos, notes, and details they routinely leave out of the reports. If you’re not reaching out to a fellow law enforcement officer to gather information, you’re sending them a bulletin about your stolen property, suspects, or suspicious circumstances. You’ll check local crime statistics to see what offenses are trending. As you interview people, you have to verify the information they’re giving you, as many people try to solve the crime on their own, which may or may not help your situation.

Finally, once you’ve gathered the information you’ve tried to search for, you often find yourself inactivating the case because you ran out of leads, rarely finding a suspect, or the information to prove that suspect did what you think happened. You gather up all your notes, emails, photos, computer printouts, and video and audio recordings and save them to a digital storage device, to be saved in the evidence room, in the event someone comes behind you with more information. All of that information, along with your findings, get typed into your multi-page supplement and filed with your case report. And, you do this with dozens of cases a month.

Every once in a while, you’ll find yourself working an interesting case that you just can’t put down. Those often develop into other investigations, some leading back to your original case, others starting you down new “rabbit trails” leading you to new investigations. These lead to good cases that get sent to the prosecutor’s office to be reviewed by their staff. If their discretionary findings support criminal charges being filed, they set that case for Grand Jury review, or by filing information in the court. That leads to the need for testimony about your case before juries, judges, administrative panels, even depositions in civil cases at times.

A large amount of work goes into a small amount of cases ever being prosecuted, let alone actually going to trial. Today, most prosecutor’s offices look to obtain a plea deal. If the case is not well-grounded, I’m their sole opinion, they often avoid wasting their time and, instead, choose to dismiss it. Though it is frustrating, it is out of the control of the investigator at that point.

These are several points that you can use to consider in the future. Not every one of these issues are consistently experienced by every investigator. But they show up more than you would like. I hope this offers a better understanding of a daily routine in the life of a criminal investigator’s job!
Thank you comment icon Thank you so much for telling me! I think that really gives me a better understanding on this career. Elizabeth
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