How to become a detective

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How to become a detective

If you’re curious, driven and want to help make communities safer, you could be cut out for a career as a detective.

It’s a challenging career choice, but a really fulfilling and exciting job – and there are now more entry routes to the role than ever before. In fact, you can now become a detective without being a police officer. In this guide we’ll explore how to become a detective.

What are detectives?

Detectives are the problem solvers of the police, tracking down information and piecing together the puzzle. They are accredited police officers who work on serious and complex investigations. Detective jobs could include working on serious assaults, robbery, doemstic abuse, knife crime, child protection, terrorism and cyber crime.

Read more: How to become a police officer

The word ‘detective’ doesn’t refer to a rank, rather it’s a description of the job role. So detective constables and police constables actually have the same rank, but different roles. Unlike police constables, detective constables don’t wear a uniform.

What do detectives do?

Detective jobs aren’t quite like they seem on TV and movies, but it is a varied and exciting career, and you won’t be based in an office. At the heart of what a detective does is uncovering the truth. Depending on their specialism, the way they do this could include:

  • Analysing evidence.
  • Talking to witnesses, gathering their statements.  
  • Building trust in the local community.
  • Pushing a case through the courts to ensure the right outcomes for the victim of a crime.
  • Work alongside uniformed police officers.
  • Make arrests.
  • Searching people and places.
  • Dealing with conflict.
  • Make decisions about risks, costs and benefits.
  • Use technology for investigations.
  • Prepare case papers and files.
  • Analyse and interpret data and documents.
  • Handle forensic material.
  • Keep in touch with different organisations and agencies relevant to your area, for example schools, courts, social workers.

What skills do I need?

You don’t need any previous experience of the police to become a detective. But police forces want people with certain skills, strengths and qualities. Here’s what they’re looking for…

  • Connectors: you need to be able to build strong relationships with people from all backgrounds. Compassionate and empathetic.
  • Problem solvers: you need an investigative mindset, taking a methodical approach to solving puzzles. Curious and focused.
  • Excellent communicators: you have to be able to communicate clearly, verbally and in writing.  
  • Organisers: brilliant time-management skills.
  • Open-minded: motivated to improve and able to take feedback or constructive criticism.
  • Resilient: determined, positive attitude and works well under pressure.
  • Ambitious: want to make an impact and make a positive contribution to society.
    There are two routes to becoming a detective: graduate
    programmes, or a police officer apprenticeship

Read more: Adapt to survive – how being adaptable can help you at work

How to become a detective

It used to be that you had to become a police constable first, and then work your way up to detective. This recently changed, and you can now become a detective without being a police officer first.

There are two main routes to becoming a police detective:

1. Graduate route

The Police Now National Detective Programme is a two-year scheme which is open to graduates. To be eligible, you need to have at least a 2:2 undergraduate degree, plus two years of work experience after uni.

The programme includes a 12-week detective academy, after which you will be required to pass the National Investigators Exam (NIE). Then you’ll receive training within a police force. You’ll develop specialised abilities and you’ll also have a leadership coach to help you build leadership skills. At the end of the two years (plus a two-year probation period) you’ll be a qualified detective constable. There are eight participating police forces in England and Wales.

Learn more about the Police Now programme, including stories from detectives.

The Metropolitan Police (the police force for London) also has a detective trainee programme for graduates. You need to be 18 or over and have a Level 6 degree, as well as a GCSE in English. You will work as a trainee detective constable, and receive 20 weeks of training. You’ll develop knowledge specific to the detective role as well as police constable – for example understanding key procedures that all officers need to know. You’ll then be assigned to a borough of London to develop key skills. You’ll have to pass the National Investigators Exam (NIE).

Learn more here.

2. Apprenticeship route

The Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship gives you practical training on-the-job, while learning academic theory at the same time. You’ll earn a salary and a degree, and will be a police officer from your first day on the job.

Learn more: What is a degree apprenticeship?

The scheme usually takes three years to complete. You’ll be tested throughout the apprenticeship. You need to have achieved a level 3 qualification (A-level or equivalent) and must be 18 or over. You can then become a detective following the programme. To apply, you go through the police force in your area.

Main image via Pexels


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