Police detectives, also called criminal investigators, investigate crimes such as arson, homicide, robbery, vandalism, fraud, burglary, and assault. They interview witnesses and victims, gather evidence, prepare search and arrest warrants, question suspects, make arrests, and when necessary, testify in court. Unlike regular police officers, police detectives typically wear plainclothes instead of police uniforms and drive unmarked vehicles.
There are specialized police detectives for every type of crime. For example, police detectives can specialize in fraud, white-collar crime, burglary, homicide, sex crimes, narcotics, vice, etc. Detective positions are either promotions or lateral transfers from within the police department, therefore a police detective is required to first work as a police officer for at least two to three years, usually in the patrol division, before applying to be a detective in a special unit. A few years spent working as a police officer is very beneficial, as it is valuable experience in learning about people, laws, and criminal processes; all of which make for better detectives.
Police detectives often spend two to several years in one special unit before they move to another. Moving to other special units not only serves to widen their knowledge base and experience, but also prevents burnout (the job of a police detective is not as exciting or glamorous as movies and television programs would have you believe).
Police detectives spend most of their time working on detailed investigations. They work daily to gather tangible evidence of drug trafficking, terrorist activity, and other crimes. They may work undercover or through an informant; sometimes simply observing, monitoring, and recording the activities of known criminals is enough to gather necessary evidence for an indictment. Most substantial evidence, however, is obtained through the interrogation of both criminals and witnesses. Before making any arrests, police detectives must ensure that the collective evidence is accurate, true, and reliable. The best evidence in any crime is a direct confession, and police detectives have the right to use psychological techniques, misdirection, and lies to encourage a criminal to confess.
Police detectives need to have incredible attention to detail and be able to keep meticulous records. They also need to possess a high level of patience, as some crimes take years to solve.
Some Daily Activities of a Police Detective:
Collect, bag, and analyze evidence from crime scenes
Interview suspects, witnesses, informants, and victims
Work closely with crime scene investigators and other forensic professionals
Testify in court and inform jurors
Attend autopsies to gather additional evidence
Act as victim advocates in the search for justice
Write reports or analyze reports from other law enforcement personnel
Request assistance and exchange information from other law enforcement agencies
Take notes and prepare diagrams at crime scenes
Take photographs at crime scenes
Travel throughout their own and different jurisdictions
Follow potentially dead-end leads
Keep detailed records of investigations and interactions with people
Perform surveillance on potential suspects
Forensic science is a field that utilizes three scientific branches: biology, physics, and chemistry. Its focus is on recognizing, identifying, and evaluating physical evidence. Since it utilizes such a broad spectrum of sciences to extract information pertinent to legal evidence, it has become an integral and essential part of the judicial system (in both defense and prosecution arguments).
Forensic detectives (also known as forensic investigators) use scientific methods and their scientific knowledge to investigate and analyze physical evidence from a crime scene. They help solve crimes by determining how and when a crime occurred and who perpetrated it by analyzing relevant samples and running scientific tests. They collect evidence from the crime scene such as fingerprints, bodily fluids, and weapons, as well as write notes on their observations, take photographs, make sketches, and bag samples to take to the lab for later analysis. They write detailed reports and use solid scientific evidence in order to prove what occurred and often have to testify in court. Their evidence has to stand up to extreme scrutiny, especially in court.
By examining physical evidence, conducting tests, interpreting data, and writing detailed reports, a forensic detective can give a truthful testimony in court and often prove the existence of a crime or a connection to a crime. Since their only objective is to produce evidence based purely on scientific facts, the testimony of forensic detectives has become a trusted part of many criminal cases.
Forensic detectives typically need a bachelor’s degree in forensic science or a natural science such as chemistry or biology. Some forensic detectives get their start as police officers who transferred to forensics after obtaining the necessary education.
New forensic investigators typically apprentice with more experienced forensic detectives to get extensive on-the-job training. Training times vary depending on what is being taught. For example, DNA analysis training can last six months, and firearms analysis training can take up to three years. This profession requires constant learning to keep up with advances in forensic technology.
Computer Crime Detective (or Computer Crime Investigator)
Cybercrime involves a computer and a network that may either be the target of a crime, or may be used in a crime. This type of crime has the potential to harm a person or even a nation's security (cybercrimes crossing international borders and involving the actions of at least one nation-state is sometimes referred to as cyberwarfare).
Cybercrimes are defined as: "Offences that are committed against individuals or groups of individuals with a criminal motive to intentionally harm the reputation of the victim or cause physical or mental harm, or loss, to the victim directly or indirectly, using modern telecommunication networks such as Internet (networks including chat rooms, emails, notice boards and groups) and mobile phones." - Cyber Crime and the Victimization of Women: Laws, Rights, and Regulations
According to a report (sponsored by McAfee), published in 2014, it is estimated that the annual damage to the global economy was $445 billion. Approximately $1.5 billion was lost in 2012 to online credit and debit card fraud in the US. In 2018, a study by Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), in partnership with McAfee, concludes that close to $600 billion, nearly one percent of global GDP, is lost to cybercrime each year.
A computer crime detective (or computer crime investigator) is able to investigate crimes that can range from computer hacking and copyright infringement, to investigating crimes against children and espionage. They can also help in recovering data from computers in order to use electronic evidence in prosecuting crimes, and are often called upon to testify in court.
Some computer crime detectives test corporate security systems that are already in place. Businesses and organizations need these professionals to help improve their networks, applications, and other computer systems in order to prevent data theft and fraud. By attempting to bypass system security and by trying to find and expose any weak points that could be taken advantage of by a malicious hacker, vulnerabilities are typically found in improper system configuration and in hardware or software flaws.
A computer crime detective's job responsibilities may include:
Analyzing computer systems
Assessing software applications for design flaws
Reconstructing hacked computer systems
Recovering destroyed or damaged data
Gathering computer system information and evidence
Improving and maximizing computer system performance levels
Preparing reports, affidavits, and testifying in court
Recovering password protected/encrypted files