What Does a Police Detective Do?
The main job of a police detective is generally to conduct criminal investigations. This can involve many different things depending on the kind of crime being investigated. For example, sometimes there is a lot of computer work involved in being a police detective, and in other cases, the job can be almost entirely devoted to interviewing people. Fundamentally, detectives are expected to piece together all the information about the crime to discover who is responsible and provide evidence that can prove a suspect's guilt in court. In some police departments, detectives might be assigned to different divisions devoted to specific types of crime, while others have more general-purpose job descriptions.
The job of a police detective is often a fundamentally different job than a patrol officer's, for a lot of reasons. Patrol officers are usually called in either before, during, or immediately after a criminal act, and they're expected to handle the immediate work of protecting the public and the initial capture of any criminals. Police detectives are primarily devoted to solving crimes and are usually called in after-the-fact. They're still devoted to protecting the public, but their purpose is generally to prevent a suspect from re-offending by discovering a suspect's identity or making sure the guilty individual is punished by the court system by helping find evidence to prove the case.
The nature of the job can depend a lot on the types of crimes a detective specializes in and the detective's level in the department hierarchy. For example, a homicide detective's investigations will sometimes involve totally different elements than a detective focused on narcotics, and when it comes to hierarchy, lower-level detectives might be assigned to basic information-gathering in a major investigation with a whole team to help in the task, while a more experienced detective heads up the investigation.
A police detective is usually deeply concerned about the courtroom implications of his actions. He will generally have to testify, and if he makes a mistake that leads people to question his credibility, a case might be ruined, which could potentially endanger the public. Detectives often have to take special precautions and even do things they might consider redundant to ensure that every reasonable lead is followed so that the case looks as credible as possible. Even if they're almost certain about the identity of the guilty party, they may conduct additional interviews and perform further investigations to rule out every conceivable possibility. In order to follow this kind of strict methodology, detectives often have to perform exhaustive, repetitious actions, and most detectives suggest that the job isn't as romantic or exciting as it might appear in many movie portrayals.
@Drentel - I agree that working for a police department can be a good career choice. I have heard that police detective salaries are decent. Of course there is some risk, but when you read the statistics about how many police officers are seriously injured in the line of duty you might be surprised. The numbers were not as large as I imagined they would be.
A career in law enforcement is a good way to earn a living. My nephew recently enlisted in the army. Long term, he wants to become a police detective, and he was told that going into the army and becoming a military police officer was a good way to get his career off on the right foot.
Once he serves in the army, he will be able to come out and get a job with a police department and work his way up to a position as a detective.
What I have heard supports the last paragraph in what it says about police detective jobs not being romantic or as exciting as TV and movies usually show them. Even so called reality shows tend to make the detective jobs appear more dramatic and exciting than they really are in the average police department.
When I was in high school we had a former police detective who worked on campus. He was given the title of vice principal, but his primary job was discipline and security. He told us that the main reason he quit the police force was because he felt like he wasn't accomplishing anything as a police officer.
He was frustrated because no matter how many drug dealers they locked up there was always someone waiting to take over for the drug dealers they removed from the streets. He said he felt like he might have a better chance of making a difference working with kids before they reached the justice system, and he thought the school system might be a better place for him to do that.
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