In our recent interview with retired FBI agent, now true crime writer, Jim Fisher, he brought up an interesting point. He said, “What makes a good uniformed cop is almost pretty much the opposite of what makes a good criminal investigator,” basically stating that sworn officers that get promoted to the rank of detective are once again “rookies”. We decided to do a little digging to find out what educational and training opportunities exist for cops transitioning to the role of criminal investigator/detective.
Some form of training is often provided by the agency a prospective detective is working for (or its affiliated academy). For example, in a 2009 New York Daily News’ article, it stated that the NYPD training course for criminal investigators had recently been improved and updated to include modern investigative techniques (such as the latest DNA testing and electronic surveillance practices). “The Criminal Investigation Course is committed to providing investigators in all uniformed ranks with the highest quality of investigative skills and training,” states the NYPD. Another example is the South Boston Police Department (Virginia) where new detectives are usually trained at either the Central Virginia Criminal Justice Academy or the Virginia Forensic Science Academy; new investigators complete courses in areas such as criminal investigation, homicide investigation, crime scene technology and child abuse investigation.
University or College Education
One of our readers (“Bob”) left an informative comment on one of our recent blog posts. He wrote, “Getting a college degree is one of the best things that you can do if you want to become a police officer. Many police departments require applicants to have college. Many of the departments that don’t require applicants to have college prefer them to. Having a degree can help you get hired, and having a degree might help you get promoted during your career”. He adds that numerous degrees, such as criminal justice, law, psychology, communications and computer science, may be applied to a career in law enforcement.
You’ll notice too that higher or advanced education may be a requirement or a preference for prospective detectives. For example, the San Diego Police Department states, “All new Officers will start their careers in the patrol division. Four years after Academy graduation, Officers are eligible to apply for an investigative position. A college degree could help obtain that position.” The Commenwealth of Virginia’s Employment Resource Center adds, “Detective and Criminal Investigator positions normally require a High School diploma or GED equivalent certification however, career advancement opportunities are greater for those with a college degree with major coursework in Police Science, Criminal Justice, or related field of study”.
A police officer with simply an Associates degree would benefit from upgrading to a Bachelors degree and possibly even a Masters if they are striving for detective rank. It might be advantageous to select a criminal justice or law enforcement degree program that includes specialty classes (such as those that cover interviewing, criminal law, criminal investigation, laboratory techniques and forensics, evidence handling and cyber crime investigation) and/or an internship or co-op component where you could job shadow a detective/criminal investigator.
Some law enforcement departments additionally offer mentorship partnerships where rookie detectives are paired with senior criminal investigators to learn through observation and direct experience. “New detectives go through an intensive in-house training program with a senior detective as mentor,” states Columbus’ Criminal Investigations Division. The District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department’s Sexual Assault Unit is another example. It began its program, where new detectives are mentored for a month by senior detectives, in 2008.
Finally numerous colleges, universities, law enforcement academies and other educational institutes offer continuing education courses and workshops for prospective or current criminal investigators. For example, recently Fox Valley Technical College offered a three-day course entitled “New Detective/Investigative Training”. In 2013, Saint Louis University’s Department of Pathology will offer several week-long courses called “Medicolegal Death Investigator Training”. The Camden County College Police Academy offers a range of affordable in-service classes that cover topics such as arson, child abuse, crime scene investigation and interview/interrogation. Or the Michigan Department of State Police Training Division has also offered a number of workshops, in areas such as homicide investigation, criminal investigation basics, the Reid and SCAN techniques and more.
All of these educational formats may seem a tad overwhelming. The best thing to do is talk to someone directly affiliated with a department you hope to be or are currently working for, whether it is your commanding supervisor or a practicing detective. They can tell you about their educational/training experiences and provide you with some solid advice.