Becoming an Undercover Cop: Job Description & Salary Information

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An undercover cop's median annual salary is around $80,000. Is it worth the education and training requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming an undercover cop is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as an Undercover Cop

Being an undercover cop is a very dangerous job, and one that involves putting your own safety or even your life in jeopardy. Before committing yourself to a career in law enforcement, learn about the pros and cons of being an undercover cop to see if this career is for you.

Pros of an Undercover Cop Career
Taking criminals off the street (drug operations and stings)*
Higher-than-average pay (median salary is about $80,000)*****
May train others in undercover operations (after being undercover for a number of years)**
High-action, intense work*

Cons of an Undercover Cop Career
Very dangerous work (high rate of on-the-job injury and fatality)*****
Must be able to move between various identities (undercover, police officer and off-duty identities)****
Slower-than-average job growth (5% for police and detectives from 2012-2022)*****
Have to associate with criminals and drug dealers*
Generally, police departments choose individuals who are not married***

Sources: *University of California, Berkeley, **International Association of Undercover Officers, ***National Criminal Justice Reference Service, ****Bridgewater State University, *****U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Information

Job Description

An undercover cop assumes a new identity in order to integrate himself or herself with an individual or organization suspected of committing criminal activity. The objective of going undercover is to determine if sufficient grounds exist to prosecute suspects or to collect evidence in order to prosecute. For example, an undercover cop might take on a new persona in order to blend in with a gang or to learn more details about a drug operation. The objective is to catch the individual(s) in the act of committing a crime and perform an arrest. Undercover cops then document the crime in written reports.

In this position, you may work undercover for a few months or several years. You will typically need to separate yourself from family and friends or from anyone who can put your cover at risk. You might investigate crimes involving subversive groups, gambling, contraband, guns and drugs.

Salary and Outlook

Job statistics for undercover cops do not exist. However, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that police detectives in general made a median salary of about $80,000 as of May 2014 (www.bls.gov). The BLS anticipated jobs for detectives and police officers to increase by five percent from 2012-2022. The number of jobs available depends on how much governmental money is available and can vary from year to year.

What Are the Requirements?

Education and Training

In order to become an undercover cop, you first have to train to become a police officer. Educational requirements to become a police officer range from a high school diploma to a college or university degree, depending on your employer. You must also be a U.S. citizen and meet personal and physical conditions, and be at least 21 years of age.

Upon meeting educational requirements, you must complete further training in a police academy and take classes in police ethics, local ordinances, state laws, civil rights and constitutional law. You also learn how to patrol, respond to an emergency, use various firearms and control traffic. You will likely also take instruction in self-defense tactics and first aid. You must then pass a physical, which tests your eyesight, agility, strength and hearing. Attending interviews and taking a drug test and a lie detector exam round out the requirements to become a police officer.

Advancement

You may work as a patrol officer for a few years before requesting a transfer to a department that has an undercover unit. However, the department might choose a new recruit for undercover duty. They might look for fresh candidates who are not known on the street and who have the right look or language skills for a particular assignment.

If you wish to go undercover, you may have to complete additional training. You have to learn how to become part of the specific group that you are trying to infiltrate. For example, you must learn how to dress and speak like them. You may initially work with an experienced undercover cop to learn these skills. You may also take classes in role-playing.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Employers rarely advertise for undercover police officers specifically; however, job listings for police officers or police detectives may include undercover work in the required duties or as required experience. The following jobs were open as of April 2012.

  • A government office in New York is looking for a senior rackets investigator with undercover investigation experience. Candidate must have experience in law enforcement and have NY State Municipal Police Training Certification.
  • A Michigan legal service seeks a state police detective to supervise and take part in criminal investigations. He or she will work in the areas of gaming, auto theft, organized crime and narcotics or in a unit concerned with intelligence or technical services. Applicant may have to do undercover work.
  • A national governmental bureau is looking for a police officer of Native American descent. Applicants must have long-term undercover experience.

How to Stand out in the Field

You will likely need to continue taking courses even if you are working in undercover operations. The International Association of Undercover Officers (www.undercover.org) offers a variety of educational opportunities. Not only does training keep your skills fresh, but it can also update you on new methods and techniques used in the field. Training may include survival and advanced techniques for undercover cops, a course for women in survival and undercover techniques and training for supervisors in vice and narcotics crimes.

You need to stay up-to-date with what is happening in the world of undercover surveillance. Make sure that you are aware of new techniques, equipment and products; and keep up with current trends and the activities of various criminal organizations.

Other Careers to Consider

If you like undercover work but don't want to become a police officer, then consider a career as an investigator or private detective who also may do undercover investigations. You need at least a high school diploma to get started in the career; however, an employer may require some college courses. According to the BLS, investigators or private detectives made a median salary of about $44,000 as of 2011. BLS anticipated employment for investigators or private detectives to increase by 21% from 2010-2020.

Perhaps you like being out on the streets helping people, but think being a police officer is too dangerous. EMTs (emergency medical technicians) or paramedics also work on the street assisting injured or sick individuals. For this career, you need to finish high school, complete training program(s) and obtain licensure. Paramedics and EMTs made a median salary of about $31,000 as of 2011, according to BLS. Their employment outlook is good, with jobs expected to increase by 33% from 2010-2020.

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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?

Utica College

  • Master of Professional Studies in Cyber Policy and Risk Analysis
  • BS in Cybersecurity - Cybercrime and Fraud Investigation
  • Cyber Crime and Fraud Investigation Certificate

What is your highest level of education completed?

Colorado State University Global

  • MS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
  • BS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
  • Undergraduate Specialization - Criminal Forensics

What is your highest level of education?

Northcentral University

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

What is your highest level of education?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS in Criminal Justice - Federal Law Enforcement Track
  • MS - Criminal Justice
  • Post-master's Certificate in Criminal Justice - Behavior Analysis

What is your highest level of education completed?

Herzing University

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

What is your highest level of education?

Penn Foster High School

  • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
  • HS Diploma

What is your age?

University of the Southwest

  • MBA - Law Enforcement & Corrections

What is your highest level of education?