Detectives And Criminal Investigators picture    Detectives And Criminal Investigators image

Criminal Investigators are individuals who are responsible for investigating suspected criminal violations of law at the Federal, state, or local levels. Typically, the goal of their efforts is to arrive at a determination of whether there is sufficient evidence to recommend prosecution for an alleged crime. Criminal investigators are employed by a wide variety of law enforcement agencies, some of which have a very narrow scope (e.g., game wardens) and others which cover a far more general set of laws (e.g., a local Sheriff's office). It is safe to say that investigators are needed wherever crimes are committed.

At the Federal level, there are numerous agencies that employ criminal investigators. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), as the nation's principal investigatory agency, is responsible for conducting sensitive national security investigations and for investigating violations of hundreds of statutes. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) protects the nation's land and water boundaries and employs investigators to address the unlawful entry of undocumented foreign nationals into the United States and the smuggling of contraband. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), as the lead agency for enforcement of Federal drug laws, often conducts complex criminal investigations involving surveillance of criminals and infiltration of illicit drug organizations. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) investigates violations of Federal firearms and explosives laws and also violations of Federal alcohol and tobacco tax regulations. Other Federal agencies which conduct investigations of crime include the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Postal Service, the National Park Service, and the branches of the military.


In a nutshell, a criminal investigator's job is to plan and execute investigations. A profile of an investigator's daily routine might include interviews with suspects, victims, and witnesses. It might also include gathering evidence and information associated with the crime being investigated. Depending on an investigator's specialty, he/she may focus on cyber-evidence, fingerprints, or DNA. Investigators are frequently required to appear in court to give evidence and/or testimony.

An investigator's responsibilities often depend on for whom he/she works. An FBI investigator will conduct surveillance, monitor court-authorized wiretaps, track the interstate movement of stolen property, examine business records, collect evidence of activities related to espionage, or participate in sensitive undercover assignments. Crime scene investigators will first secure a crime scene using ropes, barricades, guards, or some other means before conducting a search for all objects that might be considered evidence. They then collect this evidence and properly package it, and follow up by writing detailed reports, preparing accurate sketches and diagrams, and using professional photographic techniques to record the crime details.

A summary of the responsibilities of a typical criminal investigator might include any or all of the following:

  • Determine scope and direction of investigations
  • Obtain and verify evidence
  • Observe suspects
  • Interview witnesses
  • Examine records to piece together information
  • Prepare detailed reports
  • Collaborate with other agencies to exchange information and coordinate activities
  • Provide court testimony
  • Analyze evidence in laboratories or in the field
  • Perform undercover assignments
  • Perform surveillance using authorized techniques such as wiretaps

Job Characteristics

The working conditions for a criminal investigator are largely dependent on where and for whom the investigator works. Investigators who work for local law enforcement agencies usually work 40-hour weeks, although paid overtime is common. In this type of setting, there is frequently a requirement to work weekends, holidays, and nights. Crime scene investigators in particular are expected to respond to emergency calls whenever necessary 24 hours a day. Investigators who work for Federal agencies are often required to travel extensively, many times on very short notice. Some investigators employed by agencies such as the U.S. Border Patrol work outdoors in all kinds of weather and occasionally endure rugged terrain for long periods of time.

Most criminal investigator work requires at least some degree of physical activity. A typical investigator can expect to do at least some amount of kneeling, stooping, reaching and/or climbing. Many types of investigators are required to carry firearms and are authorized to use them in performance of their duties. Investigator work can often be dangerous and stressful. In addition to the threat of confrontations with criminals, investigators need to be prepared to deal appropriately with a number of other potentially dangerous situations.

Criminal investigators must be detail-oriented and thorough. Most of them are required to be physically fit and some of them must be qualified to operate firearms. Investigators must be able to communicate effectively, both orally and in writing. The need to provide court testimony and to accurately document the details of an investigation makes effective communication a principal attribute of the job.

Employment Outlook

According to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (USDL BLS), job employment is expected to grow at a faster rate than the average for all occupations. Heightened security concerns, a steady increase in litigation, and proliferation of criminal activity at all levels will fuel this job growth. A notable trend helping boost the demand for investigators is the proliferation of Internet-related crime such as identity theft, spamming, e-mail harassment, and illegal downloading of copyrighted materials. On a larger scale, a growth of worldwide financial activity will increase the demand for investigators to control internal and external financial losses and to deal with financial crime.

Criminal Investigator Training, Certification, and Licensing

Each agency has its own set of educational requirements and qualifications for the job of criminal investigator. Generally speaking, most employers look for a minimum of a bachelor's degree in a relevant subject such as criminal justice administration or police science. This is especially true at the Federal level. Advancement in the profession will often require more than a bachelor's degree, and specialties such as cybercrime will require coursework in relevant topics such as information technology (IT). The best course of action for a prospective criminal investigator is to contact specific agencies with whom employment is desired in order to establish exactly what their requirements are.

Most careers in criminal investigation do not require certification, although certification is always helpful in terms of both gaining employment and also performing the job well. One example of an available certification in the field is the Board Certified Criminal Defense Investigator (or CCDI) credential, awarded by the Executive Council of the Criminal Defense Investigation Training Council. The CCDI designation is awarded to professional criminal investigators who have met the requisite training and experience requirements as outlined by the Council. These include a combination of experience (proof of a minimum number of comprehensive assignments), coursework, and/or the ability to pass a written test. The International Association for Identification (IAI) offers a certification for crime scene investigators which can be earned at three successive levels: Certified Crime Scene Investigator (CSI), Certified Crime Scene Analyst (CSA), and Certified Senior Crime Scene Analyst (SCSA).


Major Employers

Criminal investigation is a diverse and wide-spanning field, with a broad base of employers. These employers are both public and private and exist on a number of levels. At the private level, most investigators are either self-employed or work for investigation and security services. Most investigators are employed at the public level and work for local, state or Federal law enforcement organizations. Roughly half of the publicly-employed investigators work at the local level, and about one third of them are employed by the Federal government.

Schools for Detectives And Criminal Investigators are listed in the column to the left.

Metro Areas Sorted by Total Employment for:
Detectives and Criminal Investigators

Listed below are metro areas sorted by the total number of people employed in Detectives and Criminal Investigators jobs , as of 2016

2016 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2014-24 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov; 2014-24 State Occupational Projections, Projections Central, projectionscentral.com

Metro Area Total Employment Annual Median Salary
Anaheim 4120 $117,320
Long Beach 4120 $117,320
Los Angeles 4120 $117,320
San Diego 3130 $87,790
Carlsbad 3130 $87,790
West Palm Beach 2010 $92,760
Miami 2010 $92,760
Fort Lauderdale 2010 $92,760
Tucson 1800 $78,230
Dallas 1770 $70,450
Total Employment for Criminal Investigators - Top 5 Cities Nationwide
Compare Total Employment for Criminal Investigators
Salaries for Criminal Investigators - Top 5 Cities Nationwide
Compare Salaries for Criminal Investigators
Total Employment and Salary for Professions Similar to Criminal Investigators

Career Stories (Job Profiles) for Detectives and Criminal Investigators

To find out more about building a career as Criminal Investigators, we spoke with professionals in the field across a variety of specialties. Learn about their experiences on the job, the steps they took to complete their education, and what it takes to excel in this industry. Click the link to see a story.

All Types

Most Popular Industries for :
Detectives and Criminal Investigators

Industries representing at least 1% of total jobs for the occupation.

2016 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2014-24 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov; 2014-24 State Occupational Projections, Projections Central, projectionscentral.com

Industry Jobs Percent Annual Median Salary
Government 103,680 99% $60,780
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  • MS in Criminal Justice - Federal Law Enforcement Track
  • MS in Criminal Justice - Intelligence and Crime Analysis Track
  • MS in Criminal Justice - General Track

Founded by the Society of Jesus in 1851, Saint Joseph's University (SJU) has been developing the minds and abilities of men and women in a challenging academic environment steeped in the enriching Jesuit tradition of cura personalis (care of the entire person). The strong liberal arts foundation promotes an environment of open-minded investigation and debate and attends to developing students beyond their academic accomplishments, while maintaining high academic standards. The University strives to be recognized as the preeminent Catholic comprehensive university in the Northeast.

  • M.S. in Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
  • B.A. in Government with an Emphasis in Legal Studies
  • B.A. in Government with an Emphasis in State and Local Public Policy
  • Interested in enhancing your skills and knowledge in the criminal justice field? Learn more at GCU!
  • GCU promotes interdisciplinary studies and research while developing valued skills in the justice workplace.
  • Develop collaborative and analytical skills through a rigorous educational environment and Christian worldview.
  • GCU's master's and bachelor's degrees prepare students to change lives, enhance communities and ensure the fair treatment of community members.
  • Gain the analytical skills and legal expertise needed to evaluate individuals and take charge in a professional legal setting.
  • Master of Law: International Legal Studies
  • Master of Science in Criminal Justice – Homeland Security
  • Liberty University’s online programs ranked in the top 10 out of more than 2,100 colleges & universities for academic quality, affordability, and accessibility.*
  • 100% online programs at associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral level.**
  • Transfer up to 90 credits into an undergraduate degree program.
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  • Criminal Justice - Associate of Applied Science
  • Part of the Delta Career Education Corporation.
  • Each campus features a public spa and/or salon where students can gain real-world experience.
  • 17 campuses across the United States, with online options as well.
  • Accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent colleges and Schools (ACICS), with programmatic accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).
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  • Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice
  • Has students attend one four-week class at a time and take their final exam before moving on to their next class.
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  • Provides job placement assistance to all its students and alumni.
  • Researches trends for growing fields to tailor a more effective curriculum.
  • Criminal Justice (Doctorate) - Online
  • Behavioral Crime Analysis Certificate
  • For the 12th consecutive year, Cal U was named one for the best schools in the Northeast by The Princeton Review 
  • Recognized by the U.S. News and World Report for: Best Online Programs, Bachelor’s 2017, Best Online Programs, Grad Education 2017 and Best Online Programs, Bachelor’s for Veterans 2017
  • Quality Online courses at Cal U have the same objectives, content and learning outcomes as campus-based programs and are taught by the same expert professors.
  • Offers private school amenities at a public school cost. Student-to-teacher ratio of 20:1
  • CAL U online programs complete an annual assessment of student learning to ensure outcomes are focused on your success in career entry, advancement or enhancement!
  • Criminal Justice (11-Month Diploma Program)
  • Dedicated to providing  career training since 1975.
  • Has 13 campus locations in Southern California and a campus in Morrow, GA.
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  • Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice
  • Ranked among the 2015 Best National Universities by U.S. News & World Report.
  • Designated as a Military Friendly School every year since 2012 by Victory Media.
  • Offers credit for prior learning and experience through assessment tests.
  • Provides a short term Leadership Certification program in partnership with EQUIP®.
  • Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) of the North Central Association (NCA).
  • Criminal Justice (BS) (Online)
  • Designated as a 2015 Military Friendly® School by Victory Media, publishers of G.I. Jobs®.
  • Each program is designed to instill the knowledge, ethical values, and interpersonal skills of professional practice and to foster values of social responsibility.
  • Offers several flexible learning options, including a blended format that combines campus and online learning.
  • Several scholarship opportunities are available for students who qualify.
  • Features a competency-based MBA program that allows students to test out of subjects based on prior professional experience.
  • BS in Fraud and Financial Crime Investigation

What They’re Known For

Founded in 1946 and located in the heart of central New York, Utica College is a regionally accredited, independent, private institution that features many of the advantages of a large university — such as undergraduate and graduate degree options, excellent academics, and outstanding faculty — with the intimacy and high degree of personal attention more closely associated with smaller private institutions.

We have some additional detailed pages at the state level for Detectives and Criminal Investigators.

Numbers in parentheses are counts of relevant campus-based schools in the state; online schools may also be available.

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