Detailed Guide forDetectives and Criminal Investigators in California
May also be called: CIA Agents; Crime Scene Investigators; Customs and Border Protection Officers; Deputy Marshals; Drug Enforcement Agents; FBI Agents; Federal Agents; Homicide Detectives; Intelligence Officers; Narcotics Investigators; Police Inspectors; Secret Agents; Secret Service Agents; and Spies
Specialties within this occupation include: Criminal Investigators and Special Agents; Immigration and Customs Inspectors; Intelligence Analysts; Police Detectives; and Police Identification and Records Officers
What Would I Do?
Detectives and Criminal Investigators are law enforcement professionals who gather facts and seize and collect evidence in order to solve crimes. They interview witnesses, examine records, write reports for criminal cases, and testify in court. They may also conduct surveillance or undercover operations and participate in raids or arrests. State and federal agents usually specialize in investigating a particular type of crime. These include espionage, fraud, homicide, kidnapping, narcotics, or terrorism. Some investigations can be very labor intensive and can take years to complete or solve.
Criminal Investigators and Special Agents typically work for federal agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), U.S. Marshals Service (USMS), Secret Service, or the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Duties vary by agency. Criminal Investigators and Special Agents investigate violations of federal laws related to counterfeiting, cybercrime, drug trafficking, or national security. They may monitor wiretaps and apprehend federal fugitives. Special Agents also protect the President of the United States, other public officials, and their immediate families. State agencies, such as the California Department of Justice, also employ Criminal Investigators and Special Agents.
Immigration and Customs Inspectors work for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. They investigate and inspect cars, trucks, aircraft, ships, cargo, and people at over 300 ports of entry into the United States and its territories. They seize illegal drugs, enforce trade and revenue laws, and perform agriculture inspections.
Intelligence Analysts work for local, state, or federal agencies. They gather, analyze, and evaluate information from a variety of sources, such as law enforcement databases, intelligence networks, surveillance, and geographic information systems (GIS). They may use aerial photography, radar, or sensitive radio equipment to collect information. Intelligence Analysts evaluate records of communications, such as telephone calls or electronic communication, to track illegal activity and to determine the size and location of criminal groups and members. They may also intercept and translate foreign communications transmissions. They also analyze intelligence data to predict future crimes or terrorist activities.
Police Detectives are usually plainclothes investigators who work in local police or sheriff’s departments. They typically begin their careers as police officers prior to being assigned or promoted to Detective. Police Detectives conduct investigations to solve criminal cases, such as murder, robbery, burglary, auto theft, or drug or sex crimes. At the beginning of a criminal investigation, they often meet uniformed police officers at the crime scene. Detectives may take command of a crime scene and assign specific tasks to the officers. Detectives examine crime scenes to find clues and evidence, taking care not to disturb the crime scene. They may secure dead bodies and collect evidence from the body prior to a medical examiner’s arrival. They read police reports to determine what additional information and investigative work is needed. Detectives in large police departments may specialize by investigating specific types of crimes, while Detectives in smaller departments may investigate a variety of crimes.
Police Identification and Records Officers collect and preserve evidence found at crime scenes, such as hairs, fibers, or shoe impressions. They photograph crime or accident scenes for evidence records. They dust selected areas of a crime scene and lift latent fingerprints. They may identify, compare, classify, and file fingerprints using the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS). Police Identification and Records Officers work closely with Detectives and Investigators, exchanging information on crime scene collection activities. Note: This specialty is similar to the forensic science technician occupation.
Tools and Technology
Detectives and Criminal Investigators use tools such as biological evidence collection kits; cameras; first-aid kits; handcuffs; polygraph, surveillance, and wiretap equipment; two-way radios; and weapons, including handguns and shotguns. They use case management, graphics, map creation, spreadsheet, and word processing software. They also use law enforcement information databases to input and retrieve data.
Important Tasks and Related Skills
The daily activities of Detectives and Criminal Investigators differ depending on their specialty; whether they work for a local, state, or federal agency; and the size of the agency. Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.
|View the skill definitions|
|Task||Skill Used in this Task|
|Study activities relating to auto theft rings, gangs, narcotics, terrorism, or other threats.||Public Safety and Security|
|Investigate organized crime, public corruption, financial crime, copyright infringement, civil rights violations, bank robbery, extortion, kidnapping, and other violations of federal or state statutes.||Critical Thinking|
|Operate cameras, radios, or other surveillance equipment to intercept communications or document activities.||Computers and Electronics|
|Examine crime scenes to obtain clues and evidence, such as loose hairs, fibers, clothing, or weapons.||Near Vision|
|Note, mark, and photograph location of objects found, such as footprints, tire tracks, bullets and bloodstains, and take measurements of the scene.||Problem Sensitivity|
|Obtain facts or statements from complainants, witnesses, and accused persons and record interviews, using recording device.||Active Listening|
|Record progress of investigation, maintain informational files on suspects, and submit reports to commanding officer or magistrate to authorize warrants.||English Language|
|Prepare charges or responses to charges, or information for court cases, according to formalized procedures.||Law and Government|
|Collaborate with other offices and agencies to exchange information and coordinate activities.||Oral Comprehension|
|Provide testimony as a witness in court.||Speaking|
Below is a definition for each skill.
|View the tasks to skills list|
|Public Safety and Security||Knowledge of relevant equipment, policies, procedures, and strategies to promote effective local, state, or national security operations for the protection of people, data, property, and institutions.|
|Critical Thinking||Using logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems.|
|Computers and Electronics||Knowledge of circuit boards, processors, chips, electronic equipment, and computer hardware and software, including applications and programming.|
|Near Vision||The ability to see details at close range (within a few feet of the observer).|
|Problem Sensitivity||The ability to tell when something is wrong or is likely to go wrong. It does not involve solving the problem, only recognizing there is a problem.|
|Active Listening||Giving full attention to what other people are saying, taking time to understand the points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times.|
|English Language||Knowledge of the structure and content of the English language including the meaning and spelling of words, rules of composition, and grammar.|
|Law and Government||Knowledge of laws, legal codes, court procedures, precedents, government regulations, executive orders, agency rules, and the democratic political process.|
|Oral Comprehension||The ability to listen to and understand information and ideas presented through spoken words and sentences.|
|Speaking||Talking to others to convey information effectively.|
Detectives and Criminal Investigators work in various settings, from offices to crime scenes to jungles in foreign lands. The work can be dangerous and stressful. They must have the ability to cope with emergency situations, human suffering, and death. Encountering dangerous felons and witnessing death and suffering can take its toll over time and affect their private lives negatively. However, Detectives and Criminal Investigators receive specialized training that prepares them for these types of incidents.
Detectives and Criminal Investigators work 40 or more hours a week. Working overtime as well as nights, weekends, and holidays is common. The jobs of some federal agents, such as those with the U.S. Secret Service or the DEA, may require extensive travel, often on very short notice. Some may be assigned to posts in other countries. They may also relocate a number of times over the course of their careers.
Detectives and Criminal Investigators may belong to public employee unions, such as the California State Law Enforcement Association (CSLEA) or the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).
Will This Job Fit Me?
The job of Detective and Criminal Investigator may appeal to those who enjoy starting up and carrying out projects, following set procedures, searching for facts, paying attention to details, solving problems, and taking risks.
Prospective candidates should be in excellent health and possess physical strength, stamina, and agility as well as emotional and mental stability. They must have decision-making, leadership, organizational, and oral communication skills. Excellent writing skills are critical because investigations can involve hundreds or thousands of pages of documentation. Additional characteristics such as honesty, sound judgment, integrity, and a sense of responsibility are also very important.
What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?
Wages for Detectives and Criminal Investigators vary depending on job duties, work experience, and geographic location. Those who work in large cities or metropolitan areas generally earn higher wages than those who work in smaller towns or rural areas.
The median wage in 2016 for Detectives and Criminal Investigators in California was $90,369 annually, or $43.44 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.
Detectives and Criminal Investigators typically receive health and life insurance, vacation, sick leave, holiday pay, and retirement benefits. They may also receive uniform and equipment allowances as well as bilingual and education incentive pay.
What is the Job Outlook?
Most job openings will be created by the need to replace Detectives and Criminal Investigators who retire, promote to supervisory positions, or leave the field for other reasons.
Projections of Employment
In California, the number of Detectives and Criminal Investigators is expected to grow slower than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for Detectives and Criminal Investigators are expected to increase by 3.9 percent, or 500 jobs between 2014 and 2024.
|Estimated Employment and Projected Growth|
Detectives and Criminal Investigators
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
Due to Net
|View Projected Growth for All Areas|
Annual Job Openings
In California, an average of 40 new job openings per year is expected for Detectives and Criminal Investigators, plus an additional 310 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 350 job openings.
|Estimated Average Annual Job Openings|
Detectives and Criminal Investigators
|Jobs From Growth||Jobs Due to|
|View Data for All Areas|
How Do I Qualify?
Education, Training, and Other Requirements
Job requirements vary by agency. Applicants must be at least 21 years of age and have a high school diploma or the equivalent; however, many departments require at least some college coursework. Most federal agencies require a four-year degree, related work experience, or a combination of the two. Candidates must be U.S. citizens, have a valid driver license, no felony convictions, and be in excellent physical condition. Some agencies have a maximum hiring age and a mandatory retirement age. Mobility may also be a condition of employment.
Applicants who meet the minimum requirements must pass a written examination and an oral interview. Entry-level candidates must pass a physical ability and drug test, as well as a polygraph test and a fingerprint check. In addition, they must pass a medical examination, vision screening, and psychological evaluation. Applicants must also pass a thorough background investigation. Some positions require a top secret security clearance as well.
Depending on the agency, the hiring process can take 12 months or longer.
Entry-level candidates begin their careers as recruits by attending a training academy for several months. Detectives usually begin their careers as police officers.
Experience varies by agency. Those with military or related work experience may have an advantage.
Early Career Planning
High school students interested in this kind of work should take courses in English, mathematics, computer technology, physical education, foreign language, and social science. Volunteer work at a law enforcement agency is a good way to gain valuable experience and help students prepare for a career in this field.
Criminal justice training programs may be available through California Regional Occupational Programs (ROP). To find an ROP program near you, go to the California Association of Regional Occupational Centers and Programs Web site.
Some agencies offer full-time and part-time, paid and unpaid internships. Internships are an opportunity for an agency to recruit future employees.
Continuing education varies by agency or department. However, continuing education is usually mandatory to review legal updates and to enhance and refresh job skills, such as defensive tactics and firearms.
Depending on the specialty, certificates such as certified counter-terrorism specialist, certified cyber-crime expert, and forensic photography are available to those who have met the education, training, and experience requirements. For more information, go to the U.S. Department of Labor's Career InfoNet Web site and scroll down to "Career Tools." Click on "Certification Finder" and follow the instructions to locate certification programs.
Where Can I Find Training?
There are two ways to search for training information:
- Search by Field of Study to find what programs are available and what schools offer those programs. You may use keywords such as: Criminal Justice, Criminal Science, Criminalistics, and Police Science.
- Search by Training Provider to find schools by name, type of school, or location.
Contact the schools you are interested in to learn about the classes available, tuition and fees, and any prerequisite course work.
Where Would I Work?
The largest industries employing Detectives and Criminal Investigators are as follows:
|Industry Title||Percent of Total Employment for Occupation in California|
|Federal Government ||49.5%|
|Local Government ||33.6%|
|State Government ||15.9%|
Finding a Job
General information and employment applications may be obtained through government personnel and agency websites. Job fairs, college career centers, and newspapers may also advertise job openings. Online job opening systems include JobCentral at www.jobcentral.com and CalJOBSSM at www.caljobs.ca.gov.
To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).
Yellow Page Headings
You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Detectives and Criminal Investigators.
- Government Offices
- Homeland Security
- Immigration and Customs
Find Possible Employers
To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:
- Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
- Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
- Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
- Contact the employer for possible employment.
Where Could This Job Lead?
With experience and training, Detectives and Criminal Investigators can promote to higher-ranking and administrative positions. They may also transfer into special units. Those with advanced degrees may have better promotional opportunities.
Below is a list of occupations related to Detectives and Criminal Investigators with links to more information.
|Correctional Officers and Jailers||Guide|
|Fire Inspectors and Investigators||Profile|
|Police and Sheriff Patrol Officers||Guide|
|Private Detectives and Investigators||Profile|
|Transit and Railroad Police||Profile|
These links are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement by EDD.
For the Career Professional
The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.