A homicide detective investigates murders and tries to solve many of the mysteries surrounding unexplained deaths. Most of these people work for police departments, though they can operate as independent contractors, too; the basic job description is usually about the same for both. The main goal is always to solve the case — that is, to identify what happened, how it happened, and who is responsible. Interviewing witnesses, collecting evidence, and puzzling through the facts are all important parts of the job. It sometimes happens, of course, that answers just can’t be found, but even in these cases, the detective’s work in building up a file and checking out all possible avenues of answers is very important.
- Investigative Work
Conducting investigations is the bulk of any homicide detective’s work. This often starts at the scene of the crime, but it doesn’t have to. Some detectives work on cases that are years or decades old, which makes visiting the original scene difficult if not impossible. A lot of the work comes in terms of following clues, piecing together event sequences, and trying to nail down what, exactly, happened when the victim or victims died.
- Evidence Collection
A homicide detective has to not only know what to look for, but also understand how to collect and store evidence so that it can be admissible in court. Most jurisdictions have strict rules about how evidence has to be collected and handled so that there isn’t any confusion about its validity or significance.
- Logical Reasoning
Not all of the detective’s work is done in the field, and in fact most of the major breakthroughs that happen come about as a result of deep thought and logical reasoning. While detectives must be skilled at investigation and evidence collection, these efforts don’t mean much if the investigator can’t piece his or her findings together in a convincing and meaningful way.
- Testimony and Legal Recountings
Courts often depend on detective testimony to help judges and juries make sense of what occurred. Testimony is frequently made in person, but written statements and briefings are sometimes also required.
- Filing and Paperwork Requirements
Police detectives usually have an important role when it comes to case filings. Their investigations and reports often make up the bulk of the “official” case file, and they can be determinative when it comes to whether an investigation will proceed and when it will end. These professionals must usually abide by rather strict requirements, including but not limited to proper case identification and the use of specific language.
- Detectives Within the Police Force
In many places, homicide detectives may also be available for private hire. These professionals do not work for the police, but rather are contracted by clients individually. Many work for private detective agencies, though they can also work independently. People hire this sort of detective when they want to investigate a death that the police are either not interested in or have already closed the case on.
- Becoming a homicide detective usually requires quite a bit of training and expertise. A university degree is almost always needed, and fields such as criminal justice, forensics, and criminal psychology are among the most attractive. In order to work for a police department, hopeful detectives must usually also complete special police academy courses, and they may be required to work as a regular officer for a set period of time before being promoted to detective.