How to Become a Criminal InvestigatorHow to Become a Criminal InvestigatorHow to Become a Criminal Investigator

Students interested in a career that would allow them to help others, fight crime, and give back to the community may be drawn toward criminal justice. The good news is that for the right candidate, there are a wide variety of job opportunities in this field.

Crime is a constant problem, which means that criminal investigators and other law enforcement officers usually enjoy high levels of job stability. Criminal justice also tends to offer enhanced health and retirement benefits, which makes this career path attractive to many.

If you are interested in collecting evidence, interviewing witnesses, and studying crime scenes, you may be wondering how to become a criminal investigator.

A criminal investigator writes on a notepad at crime scene blocked off with caution tape.

Students who complete the online bachelor’s degree in criminal justice program from Maryville University are likely to find it helps to provide the foundational education for pursuing a career as a criminal investigator.

What Does a Criminal Investigator Do?

The primary role of detectives and other types of criminal investigators focuses on solving unusual or specialized criminal cases. These might range from robbery to homicide to “white collar” crimes like fraud or tax evasion. Criminal investigators may work for local or state law enforcement agencies — these are the police detectives that we’re most familiar with, thanks to TV and the movies. But criminal investigators also work for federal government agencies such as the FBI, the Treasury Department, and even the Department of Defense. Criminal investigators may also work in the private sector.

The answer to the question “what does a criminal investigator do?” is a bit different than what you might see on a TV drama. The early days of a criminal investigator’s career typically involve tasks such as examining written records, providing court testimony about gathered evidence, and investigating misdemeanor and felony crimes. Depending on the nature of the case, a criminal investigator may also be asked to help prepare evidence for trial.

In some cases, criminal investigators work on behalf of crime victims; in others, they may work for private law firms that represent people who have been accused of a crime. Criminal investigators may be asked to testify in court.

Steps to Become a Criminal Investigator

Students who are interested in this career path would do well to complete the following steps:

Meet Educational and Experience Requirements

Local, state, and federal agencies prefer to hire criminal investigators who have the right combination of relevant education and law enforcement experience. Former law enforcement officers and members of the military often meet the latter requirement. In some states, applicants who have worked as parole, probation, or corrections officers may also have sufficient law enforcement experience to qualify.

Although some agencies will accept applicants who have a high school diploma, others seek out candidates who have earned an associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degree in a related course of study. Relevant majors include criminal justice, psychology, a foreign language, or computer science, according to the law enforcement news website PoliceOne.

An online degree in criminal justice from Maryville University, for instance, can help provide graduates with a competitive edge. Its curriculum is designed to help students enhance their understanding of criminality, the law and the legal profession, and law enforcement. Throughout the program, students gain exposure to criminal law, criminal procedures, and criminal theory, along with an understanding of how to research, analyze, and present findings.

Students who are enrolled in Maryville’s criminal justice program and have successfully completed training through select police academies may receive up to 13 hours of credit toward completion of the major.

Complete Training

Training requirements for law enforcement jobs vary depending on the agency and the position. Successful completion of an academy or other training program is typically required to become a law enforcement officer, and additional on-the-job training may be necessary to qualify for a criminal investigator job.

Academy training typically includes education modules on apprehension and arrests, incident reporting, traffic control, and radio operation, according to PoliceOne. It also includes weapons training, coursework on negotiation techniques, and classes on criminal psychology. In addition to classroom-based learning, some states mandate that certain physical requirements must be met. If this is the case, students may need to complete timed physical fitness tests related to sprinting, distance running, and climbing, although specific requirements vary by program.

Many agencies require academy applicants be at least 21 years old. Applicants also need to provide proof of citizenship and must be able to pass physical and psychological exams. Drug tests, background checks, and lie detector tests are also typically administered.

Seek Promotion to a Criminal Investigator Position

Officers who aspire to become criminal investigators typically must seek promotions to advance to higher ranks. Candidates may be required to pass a promotions exam and complete a probationary period before moving on to complete additional local, state, or federal requirements for advancement.

Criminal Investigator Salaries

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that in 2018, the median annual salary for detectives and criminal investigators was $81,920. Criminal investigators’ salaries can vary widely based on whether they work for a local, federal, or state agency. In 2017, detectives and criminal investigators employed by local governments earned an annual mean wage of $71,340, compared to about $106,040 for those on the federal level.

Employment Outlook for Criminal Investigators

The BLS has projected a stable job market in this field for the foreseeable future, as data suggests that employment of detectives and criminal investigators is expected to grow by 5% between the years 2016 and 2026.

Demand for well-trained investigators is expected to remain strong, with competition for jobs with federal agencies expected to be especially robust. Bilingual candidates who possess a bachelor’s or master’s degree in criminal justice and have prior law enforcement and/or military experience are projected to be in the highest demand.

Explore Criminal Justice Career Opportunities

The decision to pursue a career in criminal investigation can be exciting, and completing Maryville University’s online bachelor’s in criminal justice program is one way to gain an advantage in this highly competitive field. Discover more about how this program can help you develop the specialized skills and knowledge to become a criminal investigator.


FBI, Criminal Investigation Division

Indeed, FBI Criminal Investigator Salaries

Job is Job, Criminal Investigator Job Description

PayScale, Detective or Criminal Investigator Salaries

PoliceOne, What are the Best Degrees for Police Officers?

PoliceOne, What to Expect from Police Academy Training

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Detectives and Criminal Investigators

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Detectives and Criminal Investigators Industry Profile

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Police and Detectives

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