How Many Years of College Do I Need To Become a Homicide Detective?

A homicide detective has a very interesting yet challenging law enforcement career. This job typically entails spending time at a crime scene, collecting physical evidence and coordinating an investigation. Being a detective working homicides usually involves interviewing witnesses, gathering information about suspects, and performing data research.

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The Internal Path to This Career

In order to become eligible for work as a detective specializing in homicides, a person must first put in at least three years as a police officer. There is a competitive exam to pass, which will then provide the choice of becoming either a sergeant or detective.

Educational Requirements

The first step to a career as a homicide detective is to become a police officer. A potential police officer must hold, at the minimum, a high school diploma or its equivalent. Those who feel confident that they wish to pursue a career in detective work have a better chance at succeeding if they have completed some college courses or, preferably, have a criminal justice degree.

Criminal justice degree programs get students ready for their police academy training and the subsequent work involved in becoming a murder investigator. Some of the types of courses offered in a criminal justice or law enforcement program may include:

  • Criminology
  • Legal procedures
  • Forensics
  • Corrections
  • Criminal law
  • Legal research
  • Court systems
  • Investigative techniques

It typically takes four years to complete a bachelor's degree in criminal justice. Working for the federal government in this capacity requires a bachelor's degree. Many law enforcement agencies now also require a bachelor's degree, though for some, an associate degree is sufficient. An associate degree entails at least two years of coursework. Other bachelor's or associate degrees that may be acceptable (other than criminal justice) are in related fields, such as forensic science.

Jobs Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, police and detective employment rates are projected to increase 7 percent over the next eight years, resulting in 53,400 new jobs by the year 2026. The median annual salary for detectives and criminal investigators is currently $79,970. Job benefits are usually extensive, with an option to retire at an age earlier than the common retirement age for most other workers. Having a college degree can mean a higher salary and better job opportunities in many police departments. Most police officers and detectives also belong to a strong union that offers more benefits and job protection. A detective working on homicide cases mostly find employment within their local police departments, though there is also work on the state or federal government levels, too.

Other helpful skills and experience that a homicide investigator should possess include good communication skills, having an objective point of view and the patience to work through the sometimes long and emotional process of solving a murder. Having a four-year criminal justice degree gives most patrol officers a strong advantage when a promotion to homicide detective is desired.