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 the 10 largest metro areas based on the total number of people employed in Detectives and Criminal Investigators jobs , as of 2016

Metro Area Total Employment Annual Mean Salary
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim 4,120 $112,980
San Diego-Carlsbad 3,130 $94,990
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach 2,010 $94,070
Tucson 1,800 $78,940
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington 1,770 $83,680
El Paso 1,730 $81,780
Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land 1,720 $89,220
Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale 1,700 $75,030
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell 1,680 $67,600
Austin-Round Rock 1,550 $67,710

Compare Total Employment & Salaries for Criminal Investigators

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Total employment and salary for professions similar to criminal investigators

Source : 2016 Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, BLS.gov

Most Popular Industries for
Detectives and Criminal Investigators

These industries represent at least 1% of the total number of people employed in this occupation.

Industry Total Employment Percent Annual Median Salary
Government 103,680 99% $60,780
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Results:  10
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  • M.S. in Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
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  • 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.
  • Provides flexible class times including weekends.
  • Offers curriculum that ranges from 8 month diploma programs to 16-month Associate of Applied Science degree programs.
  • Has admissions professionals available to help students decide which diploma or degree program they should pursue.
  • Gives job placement assistance strengthened by relationships with local employers.
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Chula Vista
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  • Criminal Justice (MS)
  • Criminal Justice (BS)
  • Online Bachelor's programs include BBA, Criminal Justice, Psychology, IT, Healthcare Management & Public Health
  • Over 115 years of delivering quality education and personalized attention to students
  • Provide a range of campus experiences and services online including advising, tutoring, student community, and career services
  • Give students and alumni access to career assistants who help with resumes, cover letters, job hunting, and more.
  • 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).
  • Originally founded in 1916 in Wilmington, North Carolina by Judge Leon Motte.
  • 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 (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 (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

Utica College, founded in 1946, is a comprehensive private institution located in upstate central New York.  The College offers regionally accredited online certificates, bachelors, masters, and doctoral degrees in healthcare, cybersecurity, financial crime, nursing, physical therapy, business, criminal justice, and data science.  All courses are taught by credentialed, highly experienced faculty with significant and ongoing accomplishments in their respective fields.

  • BA in Criminal Justice/Law Enforcement
  • BA in Criminal Justice
  • AA in Criminal Justice

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  • Master of Arts in Criminal Justice
  • Allows students to transfer credits from non-U.S. colleges and universities after evaluation.
  • Has students attend one class at a time to ensure easy access to faculty and a more hands-on education.
  • Its main campus is located in Fort Lauderdale, with campuses located throughout the State of Florida and internationally. 
  • Provides a Department of Student Services and Resources that assists students with résumé preparation, interviewing skills coaching, mock interviewing, professional development workshops, and more.

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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