Criminal investigators play a critical role in solving crimes and helping bring justice to those affected.
The journey to become a criminal investigator - or any type of law enforcement officer - can be an exciting and fulfilling one, but what exactly does the job entail?
Understanding the Role of Criminal Investigators
Criminal investigators, also referred to as detectives or agents, are law enforcement officers who specialize in collecting evidence, interviewing witnesses, and analyzing information related to criminal activity. They work closely with other law enforcement officers and agencies to piece together the puzzle of crime scenes and ultimately identify and apprehend suspects.
Specializations For Criminal Investigators
Criminal investigators may choose to further narrow their focus by specializing in specific areas of criminal law. Examples of these specializations include:
These investigators specialize in cases involving suspicious deaths and murders. They often work closely with forensic pathologists, ballistics experts, and other crime scene investigators to piece together the circumstances surrounding a death.
Financial Crimes Investigations
Investigators in this field focus on crimes involving economic fraud, such as embezzlement, money laundering, and tax evasion. They often need to understand complex financial records and transactions.
This growing field involves investigating crimes committed on or through the internet. Cybercrime investigators deal with issues like hacking, identity theft, and online harassment.
Drug Enforcement Investigations
These investigators focus on crimes involving illegal narcotics. A criminal investigator with this specialty often works in conjunction with private investigators and police officers - along with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.
A serious human rights abuse, this heinous crime involves trading people for exploitative purposes. This type of investigation requires global cooperation and diverse techniques such as surveillance, undercover operations, and cyber forensics.
Typical Day for a Criminal Investigator
A criminal investigator's tasks vary widely, depending on the nature of the case they're working on.
As with police officers, a day in the life of a criminal investigator is seldom routine, as the nature of their work is often driven by the specifics of the cases they are currently handling. However, some common tasks include:
Crime Scene Investigation: Gathering and preserving evidence at crime scenes, which can include photographing the scene, collecting fingerprints or DNA, and documenting observations.
Witness Interviews: Speaking with people connected to the crime, such as victims, witnesses, and potential suspects, to gather information. Learning how to interview witnesses is often essential in the field.
Data Analysis: Reviewing collected evidence and information to identify patterns, form hypotheses, and develop a timeline of events.
Surveillance Operations: Monitoring suspects, often in collaboration with other law enforcement officers, to gather additional information or evidence.
Reporting and Documentation: Writing detailed reports and maintaining records of the investigation's progress. Keeping detailed case reports and accurate incident reporting during investigative work is a key component of an investigator's day.
The Intersection of Forensic Science and Criminal Investigation
In the digital age, criminal investigation often goes hand in hand with forensic science. This union provides criminal investigators with powerful tools for solving crimes. For instance, DNA analysis can link a suspect to a crime scene, while digital forensics can reveal incriminating evidence on computers or smartphones. As a criminal investigator works to collect evidence,
Criminal investigators work closely with forensic scientists, and technicians to interpret this evidence and use it to build a case. This collaborative approach underscores the interconnected nature of the various roles within the field of criminal justice, each contributing to the larger goal of upholding law and order. Agencies interconnect too - as a federal law enforcement agency will often join forces with local governments and agencies.
To become a police officer or criminal investigator, most agencies typically require candidates to have a high school diploma or GED, followed by completing a police academy or weapons training program. Some agencies may prefer (or require) a college degree, often in criminal justice, criminology, or a related discipline.
In addition to education, candidates must meet physical fitness requirements and pass a background check to be considered for a criminal investigator position. A periodic drug test is also required, and most prospective investigators undergo an initial probationary period. Fluency in a foreign language is a plus.
Federal Criminal Investigators
Prospective FBI, DEA, or ATF investigators typically need a bachelor's degree or higher in a related field. Federal criminal investigator jobs may also require specialized training, experience, or qualifications, depending on the specific federal government agency and role.
The Importance of Networking and Building Skills
Criminal investigators typically prioritize networking with law enforcement professionals on the job training and building relevant skills. This can involve attending conferences, joining professional associations, or participating in internships or ride-alongs with applicable agencies.
Criminal Investigator Salary: What to Expect
A criminal investigator's median annual salary can vary depending on factors such as location, experience, and the employing law enforcement agency. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for detectives and criminal investigators in 2020 was $91,610. This figure can be higher for those working in federal law enforcement or specialized fields.
Job Outlook for Criminal Investigators
Criminal investigator jobs are expected to grow at a modest pace in the coming years. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 3% growth in employment for detectives and criminal investigators between 2020 and 2030.
As the population grows and technology advances, the need for skilled criminal investigators will remain crucial in addressing evolving crime trends and maintaining public safety.
Challenges and Rewards of Criminal Investigator Work
Criminal investigators often face numerous challenges in their day-to-day work, including high-stress situations, demanding caseloads, and long hours. They must also be prepared to deal with the emotional and psychological impact of investigating crimes and crime victims, which can sometimes involve exposure to traumatic events and disturbing evidence.
Despite these challenges, many criminal investigators find their work to be incredibly rewarding. A criminal investigator often plays a critical role in bringing justice to victims and their families, to make communities safer, and ensuring that criminals are held accountable for their actions.
Preparing for a Criminal Investigator Career
Aspiring criminal investigators can often benefit from educational opportunities and hands-on experiences in law enforcement.
Criminal investigators typically possess strong communication, analytical, and critical thinking skills - and they engage in activities that hone these abilities, such as participating in debate teams or possibly by taking courses in psychology, sociology, or statistics.
A criminal investigator (as well as a police officer) will each play an indispensable role in the field of law enforcement, working to solve crimes and bring criminals to justice.
American Public University's Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice
Students should consider American Public University's Bachelor of Science Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice in Criminal Justice program. This comprehensive degree offers students the opportunity to learn from experienced professionals in the field - many of whom have years of law enforcement experience.
Here are some of the classes in the criminal justice bachelor's degree program:
- Introduction to Law Enforcement
- Evidence and Procedures
- Criminal Justice Administration
- Stress Management in Law Enforcement
- Patrol Methodologies & Community Policing
In-Depth Curriculum Covering Key Areas
The curriculum covers essential topics such as criminal law, forensic science, and law enforcement procedures. Students will gain valuable insight into crime scene investigation, evidence collection, and the use of technology in modern criminal investigations.
Flexible Online Learning for Working Professionals
APU's online format offers flexibility for students balancing work, family, and other commitments. The program is designed to accommodate the schedules of busy professionals, allowing them to earn their degree in criminal justice without compromising their current responsibilities.
American Public University's Master's Degree in Criminal Justice
American Public University's also offers a Master's Degree in Master's Degree in Criminal Justice Justice program as an opportunity for students to deepen their knowledge and sharpen their skills.
The master's program covers a wide range of advanced topics, including criminal justice theory, policy development, ethics, and leadership.
APU's Master's Degree in Criminal Justice program offers students the option to choose from several concentrations including Law Enforcement and Public Safety Leadership, Emergency Management and Public Health, and Intelligence and Security Management, among others.
A Beacon of Hope
In the intriguing world of criminal justice, the role of a criminal investigator stands as a beacon of hope, forging the path to justice. These skilled professionals, armed with their knack for detail and analytical prowess, are often the unsung heroes behind the scenes.
From delving into the depths of homicide cases to tackling cybercrimes, their areas of specialization are often as diverse as the crimes themselves. Criminal investigators are part of an intricate network that includes forensic scientists, and other law enforcement agencies, all working in harmony to uphold law and order.
A criminal investigator requires a unique blend of education, physical fitness, and a spirit of relentless curiosity. Criminal investigators often face challenges, but are often rewarded for tackling those challenges head-on.
American Public University offers comprehensive degree programs in criminal justice, providing flexible online learning and in-depth curriculums.