California Occupational Guides

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Summary 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.

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 Drug Enforcement Administration (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.

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, agility, and 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 2020 for Detectives and Criminal Investigators in California is $104,428 annually, or $50.21 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

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Annual Wages for 2020Low
(25th percentile)
(50th percentile)
(75th percentile)
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2020 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
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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.

How Do I Qualify?

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 or a four-year degree. Candidates must be U.S. citizens, have a valid driver license, and no felony convictions. Some agencies have a maximum hiring age and a mandatory retirement age. Mobility may also be a condition of employment. Entry-level candidates must pass rigorous preemployment written, oral, and physical examinations. They must also submit to polygraph and drug tests as well as extensive background investigations.

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).

Learn More About Detectives and Criminal Investigators