Television glamorises the job of crime scene investigators. In the 21st century, TV detectives evolved from unlikely candidates in tropical locations to heartthrobs in urban jungles. How realistic are these portrayals? In answer to that question, viewers need only remember that real criminals do not lead normal lives after the director yells "cut!" Real detectives, especially in the area of homicide, must be strong both physically and emotionally, well educated through postsecondary education or on the job, and able to uphold good moral character in the worst of times.
A police officer is involved in the day-to-day assurance of safety and law enforcement for the general public, preventing crimes from occurring and responding when they do. A detective, however, is an after-the-fact member of the civil service staff, trying to piece together what happened and who caused it to happen. Homicide is the killing of one person by another. In short, homicides are crimes resulting from the untimely deaths of individuals by unnatural causes.
In general, detectives investigate and collect facts and evidence in criminal cases. Homicide detectives perform these duties as they relate to criminal deaths. An investigation involves interviews, fact-finding missions and, often, surveillance of the suspects, all while adhering to department guidelines. When complete, an investigation will result in either an arrest or a dropped case.
Qualifications for detectives are set by each force's civil service governing body and usually involve police work as a prerequisite. Applicants, in most municipalities, must be high school graduates, U.S. citizens and at least 21 years old. Law enforcement embodies the phrase on-the-job training. Most departments prefer to train their own staff, even if they already hold a degree. However, many departments now look for candidates with at least a two-year justice degree.
Detectives, like police officers, are subjected to pre-employment written tests, medical exams, psychiatric exams and background checks. They are expected to be physically fit, mentally strong and of exemplary moral character.
The Down Side
The obvious negative side to detective work is the danger. Harmless, mentally stable people do not usually commit homicide. Detectives work with volatile individuals on a daily basis and see gruesome, unforgettable crime scenes. In addition to physical danger, life as a homicide detective takes an emotional toll on the detectives and their families. Crimes are not committed on a schedule and detectives often work long, odd hours.
Prospects and Pay
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in its 2008-2009 report, listed the average earnings of a detective as about £37,700. As with many careers, location plays a large part in earnings. Inner-city detectives with tenure can earn close to six figures, according to the New York City Police Department's 2009 postings.
When it comes to job security, police and detective work will undoubtedly grow and corresponding pay/benefits will remain worthwhile. The BLS expects an 11 per cent jump in the detective field by 2016 and forces want to retain their trained professionals.