Undercover detectives are police officers or private investigators who assume a false identity in order to unearth clues, observe someone or obtain information secretly. They frequently specialise in an area, such as gang activity or corporate theft, and their main goal is to gather evidence that can help catch, convict and deter criminals. The U.S. Department of Labor reports undercover police detectives and undercover private detectives earned annual median wages of £39,591 and £27,144, respectively, as of May 2008. Although the salaries are modest considering the job's responsibilities, many undercover detectives choose their profession because they're committed to preventing crime.
- Skill level:
- Moderately Challenging
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Acquire a high school diploma and preferably a college degree too. Recommended coursework includes criminal justice, law and police science, but also select classes related to your field of interest. For example, undercover detectives who plan to specialise in corporate investigations should consider pursuing accounting or business courses, and those with an interest in computer crimes should enrol in computer science classes.
Strengthen you communication skills. Undercover detectives must be able to interact effectively and convincingly with a variety of people in numerous situations, including colleagues, witnesses, court personnel (when testifying in legal cases) and the unaware targets of investigations.
Decide if you prefer to work for a law enforcement agency as an undercover police detective or a detective firm as an undercover private detective. Both receive most of their training on the job, but the application process differs.
Contact the desired law enforcement agency, such as your local police department, to obtain instructions on how to apply for a position as a police officer if that's your chosen career path. Undercover detectives typically gain that position after they complete training as a uniformed police officer and demonstrate sufficient skill and experience on the job.
Research detective agencies if private detective work is your professional goal and contact your top choices for application instructions. Expect to undergo a job interview and background check before securing a permanent position, in addition to a written examination if licensing is required.
Tips and warnings
- The U.S. Department of Labor predicts job growth of 10 per cent for undercover police detectives and 22 per cent for undercover private detectives through 2018. However, in both cases, employment prospects will be best for individuals with several years of military experience and/or a college degree.
- Some undercover detectives choose to establish an independent agency that serves private clients. To be successful, they must have substantial experience and sufficient business skills to run their own business.
- Aspiring undercover detectives should be aware that the job frequently requires working irregular hours, and it's also potentially dangerous. Self-defence and weapons training are essential for the latter hazard.
- All undercover police detectives must pass a criminal background check during the hiring process. Although requirements vary by state for undercover private detectives, most have to pass a criminal background check to qualify for a license.
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