8 Types of Detectives

By Chris Kolmar - Apr. 27, 2021

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Outside of the comfortable and safe bubble that the average person builds around their life, crimes are happening every hour. Minor offenses like vandalism and petty theft to more major criminal activity like assaults, burglary, and murder go unseen by most of society.

There is a subset of professionals, though, who make it their business to investigate criminal matters, and hopefully, solve them. These individuals are called detectives, and they can have a number of specialties.

What Does a Detective Do?

When hearing the phrase ‘detective’, most people’s minds race to their favorite cop television show. They imagine an attractive actor running from room to room with their hand hesitantly hovering over their weapon to hunt down a mastermind criminal or serial killer.

It’s true that there are lots of detectives whose work packs this type of thrill, but these television dramas are a bit misleading.

Detectives, sometimes referred to as criminal investigators, are members of law enforcement who do the groundwork on investigating various crimes. A criminal investigator can handle many different types of crimes depending on the day, such as:

  • Assault

  • Robbery

  • Identity Theft

  • Arson

  • Fraud

  • Homicide

They work through an incident to find the truth by collecting pieces of physical evidence from the crime scene to examine, speaking with key witnesses, and doing massive amounts of research. After solving a crime, detectives are also responsible for arresting suspects and testifying against them throughout court proceedings.

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8 Types of Detectives

While being a detective is often thought of as a single occupation, there are actually several different types of criminal investigators with their own skills and specialties. Below are 8 types of detectives who work diligently to solve crimes and bring perpetrators to justice.

  1. Missing persons detective

    Average salary: $50,986

    Education requirements: Bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and relevant experience

    As of 2019, there are 87,500 active missing person cases in the United States alone, the majority of these missing individuals being children. When a person goes missing, their case is handed over to a missing person’s detective who specializes in such occurrences to decipher what happened.

    In addition to working on solving cases of missing people, these types of detectives also have direct contact with panicked and grief-stricken loved ones who don’t know where their family member has gone. It’s a position that requires a lot of communication skills and empathy to handle the emotions of the loved ones in a missing person’s case.

    A missing person detective works alongside other law enforcement professionals to get to the bottom of these cases, whether it happened yesterday or a decade ago.

  2. Cold case detective

    Average salary: $52,074

    Education requirements: Bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related field and experience as a police officer

    The definition of a ‘cold case’ is a crime that has gone unsolved for an extensive period of time. The case is still gathering new evidence and pursuing leads but hasn’t been figured out yet.

    Cold cases can remain open for decades and will not be closed until a finding is ruled. These troubling and difficult cold cases are eventually passed over to a detective who specializes in this.

    When details of a case have reached a standstill, a cold case detective steps in to do further research. Their tasks include reevaluating the physical evidence, witnesses, and other information that’s pertinent to the investigation.

    A cold case detective also considers new information or technology that surfaced in the time since the crime occurred that could help solve it.

    Being a cold case detective is a position that can be frustrating, but the job can also be extremely rewarding. Solving even one cold case can make a huge difference in the lives of many people.

  3. Private detective

    Average salary: $53,320

    Education requirements: High school diploma or equivalent

    While many people assume that all criminal investigators work for a law enforcement agency, a lot of them work privately for court cases and clients. These professionals are called private detectives.

    A private detective does a lot of the same basic tasks as a public detective, but they’re employed by clients as opposed to a police department. These responsibilities can include:

    • Verifying information through research

    • Interviewing people related to the case

    • Performing surveillance

    • Gathering evidence

    Being a successful private detective demands negotiation skills and legal knowledge. Their job puts them at the heart of both people’s personal lives and criminal activity.

  4. Insurance claim detective

    Average salary: $55,931

    Education requirements: High school diploma or GED depending on the employer

    When an accident of any kind happens, the tragedy needs to be properly investigated to determine what occurred for insurance purposes. This is the job of an insurance claims detective.

    Similar to other types of investigative professions, an insurance claims detective must collect and analyze evidence and witness statements, but they strictly handle investigations for insurance companies to have a clear understanding of the incident that transpired.

    Their main goal is to determine if any insurance fraud is occurring in an accident or a crime scene, like arson. Without the investigative efforts of an insurance claims detective, insurance companies risk paying out claims for fraudulent situations.

  5. Homicide detective

    Average salary: $75,754

    Education requirements: Bachelor’s degree in a subject related to criminal justice, police training, and experience with casework

    As their title suggests, homicide detectives specialize in a specific area of criminal activity; murder. When a suspicious death occurs as the result of foul play, homicide detectives investigate the crime scene, speak with witnesses, and eventually apprehend the murder suspect.

    Homicide detectives can work for government law enforcement agencies at the local, state, and federal levels.

    Becoming a homicide detective is signing on to work with death for the majority of your career. They tackle devastating situations as a part of their daily work responsibilities and are subject to work an intense schedule. In addition to the critical thinking required to investigate crimes, homicide detectives also need emotional strength.

    While the position definitely isn’t for everyone, it’s a job that’s necessary to ensure that murders are solved and that the assailants are put in prison.

  6. Forensic detective

    Average salary: $83,900

    Education requirements: Bachelor’s degree plus field experience

    At every crime scene, there is a bounty of evidence scattered that goes unseen by the average person’s eye. Biological debris like hair and skin cells, plus other forms of physical evidence like footprints and gunshot residue can all be crucial pieces of evidence that lead to a crime being solved.

    These pieces of evidence are gathered by a forensic detective.

    In addition to collecting physical evidence, a forensic detective is also responsible for other tasks, such as:

    • Finding witnesses

    • Shooting photos of the crime scene

    • Creating criminal investigation reports

    • Testifying in court cases

    A forensic detective handles the more scientific side of a criminal case. Their role requires familiarity with many tools of the trade, like chromatographs and cameras. In addition to working with scientific tools, the job of a forensic detective requires soft skills like critical thinking and attention to detail.

  7. Police detective

    Average salary: $84,848

    Education requirements: An associate’s degree in law enforcement or more depending on the department

    A police detective is the closest thing to the job that people imagine a detective to be. They don’t handle a single type of case, but rather, they work with a variety of criminal activities.

    Some of the crimes that police detectives work on include:

    • Home invasions

    • Sexual assaults

    • Domestic abuse

    • Homicide/Suicide

    • Burglary

    Police detectives commonly work in smaller precincts where there aren’t enough detectives for crime or case specialization among them.

  8. Cybercrimes detective

    Average salary: $98,350

    Education requirements: Bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or cybersecurity

    A criminal doesn’t need to come face-to-face with you to cause major destruction in your life. They can do it all through the computer.

    The main focus of a cybercrimes detective is investigating these types of criminal situations that take place on the internet. They work for individuals who have been victimized, as well as expansive government agencies.

    Unlike other types of detectives, the responsibilities of a cybercrimes investigator can be largely technical. Some of their typical daily duties include:

    • Retrieving data from devices

    • Compiling digital evidence

    • Evaluating a computer’s system

    • Conducting network attack analysis

    • Investigating software for weak spots

    • Providing technical reports for law enforcement

Frequently Asked Questions About Detectives

  1. What skills does a detective need? While being a detective is an exciting occupation, it also comes with its own challenges that require a particular set of skills. The reality of solving crimes is that you encounter horrendous behavior on a daily basis. Detectives must become familiar with an extremely disturbing aspect of humanity.

    A criminal investigator should demonstrate a few characteristics and abilities to cope with the difficult nature of their job. These include:

  2. Is being a detective dangerous? Being a detective of any kind carries a higher level of danger than other professions. After all, detectives spend their career being very close with crimes and criminals. With that being said, there are a lot of measures in place to protect detectives and it’s still a gratifying position that helps people.

  3. What are common interview questions for detectives? Being prepared for the unique questions that will be asked in a detective interview can help you succeed in getting the job.

    The questions that are presented to candidates can differ greatly depending on the type of detective position they’re going for. However, there are some questions that are typically asked of detective applicants regardless of their specialty.

    Some of these common detective interview questions include:

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Chris Kolmar


Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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