California Occupational Guides

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Detailed Guide for

Detectives 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
TaskSkill 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
Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Information Network (O*NET)

Working Conditions

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 2021 for Detectives and Criminal Investigators in California was $109,669 annually, or $52.73 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

Change to Hourly Wages
Annual Wages for 2021Low
(25th percentile)
(50th percentile)
(75th percentile)
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2021 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
View Wages for All Areas


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 3.2 percent, or 400 jobs between 2018 and 2028.

Estimated Employment and Projected Growth
Detectives and Criminal Investigators
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
Total Job
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Projected Growth 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.

Internship Programs

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

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 TitlePercent of Total Employment for Occupation in California
Federal Government46.3%
Local Government32.7%
State Government19.2%
Source: EDD/LMID Staffing Patterns

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 and CalJOBSSM at

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.

Related Occupations

Below is a list of occupations related to Detectives and Criminal Investigators with links to more information.

Correctional Officers and JailersGuide
Fire Inspectors and InvestigatorsProfile
Police and Sheriff Patrol OfficersGuide
Private Detectives and InvestigatorsProfile
Security GuardsGuide
Transit and Railroad PoliceProfile

Other Sources

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.

SOC - Standard Occupational Classification33-3021
O*NET - Occupational Information Network
   Police Detectives33-3021.01
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)IEC
   Police Identification and Records Officers33-3021.02
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)CRI
   Criminal Investigators and Special Agents33-3021.03
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)EIR
   Immigration and Customs Inspectors33-3021.05
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)CER
   Intelligence Analysts33-3021.06
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)IEC
CIP - Classification of Instructional Programs
   Criminal Justice/Police Science 430107
TOP - Taxonomy of Programs (California Community Colleges)
   Administration of Justice210500
   Police Academy210550