Homicide detectives fulfill some of the most critical roles in law enforcement. Tasked with investigating the circumstances that lead to and result in the loss of life, these highly skilled, well-trained professionals understand human behavior. Homicide detectives attempt to solve the worst crimes with logic, reason, organization, efficiency, and high ethical standards.
Police officers who aspire to become homicide detectives can work toward their goal by following a few key steps. These include pursuing a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, completing required police training, and gaining an understanding of the job through actual casework experience, such as in an officer role that works for the homicide division in a different capacity. The promotion from police officer to detective may also bring opportunities to earn a higher salary and set out on a path to further advancement.
What Does a Homicide Detective Do?
The work of homicide detectives begins at the crime scene, where they work alongside crime scene investigators (CSIs). They are responsible for analyzing relevant evidence procured from CSIs, such as fingerprints, which can help them identify suspects in murder cases, but they also look beyond forensics to collect information about the crime. Homicide detectives spend a significant amount of time interviewing suspects and others who have knowledge about these individuals. Homicide detectives can then use the information gathered to present assumptions or recommendations to legal professionals through detailed reporting. In some cases, homicide detectives might testify at court proceedings to describe collected evidence and statements in order to shed additional light on the case.
Typical Steps to Becoming a Homicide Detective
The following steps outline the typical academic and professional path to becoming a homicide detective. Before entering the force, police academy training has to be completed, then officers apply what they’ve learned to valuable on-the-job training. After gaining several years of related experience as a police officer, a candidate may apply to be promoted to the role of a homicide detective. In addition, a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice can be helpful when officers want to advance to higher positions, such as a homicide detective.
Step 1: Attend Police Academy
Many aspiring law enforcement professionals start their careers at police academies after earning a high school diploma. While a criminal justice degree is not technically required, it may give officers an advantage in advancing to higher jobs within a department.
Police academy training can include not only coursework and practical training but also intensive physical and psychological training. Depending on the jurisdiction, cadets attend a state, municipal, community, or institute-based police academy. Typical coursework covers first aid, investigative practices, motor vehicle law, patrol procedures, emergency driving techniques, criminal law, defensive tactics, and firearms, among other topics. Cadets must also complete “boot camp” courses designed to train future officers for the physical demands of the role throughout the program. Depending on the type of academy, training can last from 12 weeks to 12 months.
Step 2: Gain On-the-Job Experience
Once aspiring detectives have completed the appropriate police academy training, the next step is getting on-the-job experience. Successful homicide detectives understand the behaviors that lead to loss of life thanks to many years in the field.
Real-world training can start at a local police department’s homicide unit and may include interacting with other departments depending on the type of case under investigation. On-the-job training in law enforcement also typically involves shadowing experienced officers and exposure to unpredictable circumstances that require smart, decisive, and efficient responses. Through training, police officers and homicide detectives build diverse skill sets that includes the ability to observe and assess the murder scene, clearly document the details, analyze evidence gathered by CSIs, canvas the area, and properly handle suspects.
Step 3: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
While a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice is not required to become a police officer, it may help officers advance to higher positions in the force. To have those types of opportunities, it is key to combine skills gained from this type of degree program with comprehensive on-the-job training and experience.
Criminal justice degree programs allow students to examine crime as a social phenomenon by combining theoretical learning with field-based education. Additionally, some programs allow students to earn credits toward a bachelor’s degree for successfully completing police academy training. For example, Maryville University’s online bachelor’s in criminal justice degree program allows students to get up to 13 credit hours for successfully completed police academy training through select academies.
Typical criminal justice coursework can include criminology theory, criminal law and procedures, multicultural policing, abnormal psychology, and more relevant subjects to help students approach detective work from a broader perspective.
What Skills Does a Homicide Detective Need?
The relevant coursework in a criminal justice degree program helps students develop a diverse skill set that spans from research to technology. The following skills are key for success as a homicide detective:
- Problem solving
- Critical thinking
- Written communication
- Oral communication
- Ethical behavior
- Attention to detail
- Keen understanding of human behavior and psychology
Homicide Detective Salaries and Job Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for police officers and detectives is $62,960 as of May 2017. BLS also projects employment of homicide detectives to grow 7 percent from 2016 to 2026. While a degree is not a requirement for becoming a police officer, it may significantly contribute to the progression of a law enforcement career, particularly one as a detective.
Start Your Journey To Becoming a Homicide Detective Today
A career as a homicide detective holds potential to be both exciting and rewarding because of the significant contribution homicide detectives bring to society. Each step along the path to become a homicide detective holds value. Completing police academy training can help students earn credit hours toward a bachelor’s degree, as well as reveal options for specialized career paths. Following training, aspiring detectives can apply their knowledge to valuable on-the-job experience, paving the way for faster, more lucrative advancement to detective work.
Find out how to get started by learning more about Maryville University’s online criminal justice program.