Becoming a Homicide Detective: Job Description & Salary Info

About this article
A homicide detective earns an annual mean wage of almost $81,000. Is it worth the service requirements and potential danger? Read about the pros and cons of becoming a homicide detective to decide if this career is right for you.
View available schools

Pros and Cons of a Career as a Homicide Detective

In order to become a homicide detective, you'll have to first spend some time as a police officer. Read the following pros and cons of this career field to determine if it's right for you.

Pros of Becoming a Homicide Detective
Better than average annual salary (nearly $81,000 in May 2014)*
Satisfaction of protecting the community and solving crimes*
Career can begin with only a high school education*
Over 90% of protective service workers had access to retirement plans*

Cons of Becoming a Homicide Detective
One of America's highest on-the-job injury and fatality rate career choices*
Low employment opportunity increase of 2% projected for 2012-2022*
High stress occupation*
May be required to work shifts at any hour of any day*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Detectives work shifts at all hours. These shifts may lasts longer than eight hours and overtime is common in some departments, especially when there are many open cases. Homicide detectives investigate crime scenes in which foul play is suspected. They examine physical evidence and conduct interviews with suspects and witnesses to help solve crimes. Detectives may often be called upon to provide testimony when cases go to trial. They frequently work with other agency personnel, such as lab technicians who help analyze evidence.

Job Prospects and Salary

On a national level, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that detectives and criminal investigators would only see a two percent increase from 2012-2022 (www.bls.gov). In May 2014, the BLS noted that the annual mean wage for these professionals nationally was just over $80,000 with the upper 90% earning more than $127,000. The District of Columbia and Alaska were the top paying states for this career choice, while California and Texas were the states employing the most detectives.

Career Requirements

Education

Entry into the detective career field begins at the police officer level. Most police departments only require a high school diploma or GED to be eligible. Some police forces are now requiring some level of study in criminal justice or a related area, but most still consider police academy training as adequate for cadets entering the force. Not all forces require advanced education for promotion, but some recommend it and there are over 500 schools in the U.S. that offer these studies at all degree levels.

Background Essentials

Law enforcement officers at all levels are required to meet legal and ethical standards. This includes passing criminal background checks and drug screenings. Officers may also need to fall between minimum and maximum age requirements determined by individual departments. Detectives may also be required to meet physical fitness standards set by their prospective agency.

Desired Traits

Creative and intuitive thinking are valued traits in homicide detectives. Communication skills are essential for tasks like interviewing people and writing reports. Analytical thinking and problem solving abilities are vital to piece together seemingly unrelated factors that may lead to solving crimes. Because homicide detectives may frequently work with distraught people, sensitivity and patience can also be important traits.

How to Stand out

Get a Head Start

You can get a jump on your career even before you enter the academy by working with a local police department through community watch programs. Some police departments also offer cadet and explorer programs designed for students and young people under the minimum academy age. Through these programs you can experience law enforcement training. Once you become a police officer, you can observe detectives and assist them in their work.

Educate Yourself

Many police departments will consider education a factor when it comes time for promotion. Some departments include tuition reimbursement programs in the benefits package. One major you may consider is criminal justice. Bachelor's programs in this major include coursework in criminology, psychology and social policy. Additionally, you might consider learning a second language, especially if you want to work in an area with a large number of non-English speakers.

Alternate Career Options

Solving crimes may fascinate you, but perhaps you're put off by the long hours or other aspects involved with being a homicide detective. There are other options you can consider that will allow you to stay in the protective services area.

Correctional Officer

If you want to work in criminal justice system but don't want to do the long hours that homicide detectives may work, you may consider becoming a corrections officer. These individuals work in correctional facilities, monitoring inmate populations and ensuring that prison rules are followed. The BLS indicates that employment opportunities are expected to increase just five percent from 2010-2020 due to budgetary concerns. In May 2011, the BLS reported that corrections officers earned a median annual salary of almost $39,000.

Forensic Science Technician

If you still want to help solve crimes but are interested in working on the science end, a career in forensic science may be right for you. These individuals perform laboratory tests to uncover forensic evidence. They may also work on the scene to collect samples. Although entry-level positions may require you to earn a Bachelor of Science degree, the BLS predicted that you'd see a much better job outlook of 19% from 2010-2020. As of May 2011, the annual mean wage for these science detectives was nearly $52,000 with the top 90% earning almost $85,000.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master: Criminal Justice
      • MS in Homeland Security and Emergency Management
    Bachelor's
      • BSCJ: Law Enforcement
      • BS in Corrections
      • Bachelor: Criminal Justice
      • BSCJ: Homeland Security
      • BSCJ: Juvenile Justice
      • BSCJ: Crime Scene Investigation
    Associate's
      • Associate: Criminal Justice
      • AAS in Public Safety and Security
      • AAS in Criminal Justice and Criminology
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Keiser University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • B.A. - Criminal Justice
      • B.A. - Homeland Security
    Associate's
      • Associate of Arts - Criminal Justice
      • Associate of Arts - Homeland Security
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Saint Joseph's University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Criminal Justice Federal Law Enforcement
      • MS in Criminal Justice
      • MS in Criminal Justice Homeland Security
      • MS in Criminal Justice Intelligence & Crime Analysis
      • MS in Criminal Justice Behavior Analysis
      • MS in Criminal Justice Behavior Management
  • Online Programs Available
    4. American InterContinental University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Forensic Science
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Corrections and Case Management
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Generalist
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Homeland Security and Crisis Management
    Associate's
      • Associate of Science in Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Homeland Security: Leadership & Policy
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Criminal Justice
      • PhD in Business Admin - Homeland Security: Leadership & Policy
      • PhD in Business Admin - Criminal Justice
    Master's
      • MBA - Homeland Security
      • MS - Organizational Leadership: Criminal Justice
      • MBA - Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
      • MS in Leadership: Disaster Preparedness & Executive Fire Leadership
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor: Public Safety and Emergency Management
  • Campus and Online Programs
    7. South University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Criminal Justice (BS)
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Benedictine University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MPH - Emergency Preparedness Focus
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Lewis University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Criminal Justice
      • MS in Public Safety Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Project Management and Public Safety Leadership
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership

Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • Master: Criminal Justice
  • BSCJ: Law Enforcement
  • Associate: Criminal Justice

Which subject are you interested in?

Keiser University

  • B.A. - Criminal Justice
  • B.A. - Homeland Security
  • Associate of Arts - Criminal Justice
  • Associate of Arts - Homeland Security

What is your highest level of education?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS in Criminal Justice Federal Law Enforcement
  • MS in Criminal Justice
  • MS in Criminal Justice Homeland Security

What is your highest level of education completed?

American InterContinental University

  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Forensic Science
  • Associate of Science in Criminal Justice

Are you a US citizen?

Northcentral University

  • Doctor of Business Admin - Homeland Security: Leadership & Policy
  • Doctor of Business Admin - Criminal Justice
  • MBA - Homeland Security
  • MS - Organizational Leadership: Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education?

Grand Canyon University

  • MS in Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
  • MS in Leadership: Disaster Preparedness & Executive Fire Leadership
  • Bachelor: Public Safety and Emergency Management

What is your highest level of education?

South University

  • Criminal Justice (BS)

What is your highest level of education completed?

Benedictine University

  • MPH - Emergency Preparedness Focus

What is your highest level of education?