How to Become a Homicide Detective: Job Description, Salary, Education & Training


If you are anything like us you love to settle in and watch episode after episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. A little Detective Benson and Detective Stabler action never hurt anyone, right? Binging on our favorite show got us thinking about how to become a homicide detective, so we figured we would do a bit of research and pass along all of the details to those that are looking for a new career. Being a homicide detective doesn’t seem like it is a cake walk by any means, but it does seem pretty rewarding and endlessly interesting. Alright, let’s get down to the nitty gritty and talk about the good, bad and the ugly of becoming a homicide detective.

How to Become a Homicide Detective

You have decided that you want to join the ranks and be a homicide detective. Awesome! It’s a pretty admirable profession and we are sure the police force would be lucky to have you! We just so happen to have been researching this very thing and are stoked to provide you with all of the information that you need to know. There are several steps that are required to become a homicide detective and there really isn’t any way to get around them. So here they are, take some notes…or else!

  • Meet the Department Standards

The first step to becoming a homicide detective is to meet all of the department standards that are set forth to become a police officer. You can’t become a detective without first pounding the pavement as a newbie officer. Many police departments prefer to take on new officers with aspirations to become homicide detectives with an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or law enforcement. We’ll cover more of that later though.

  • Become a Police Officer:

Now that you have met all of the requirements to become a police officer and have completed the necessary schooling to become a homicide detective (once you’ve paid your dues as lowly junior officer). You’ll have to complete some intense training at the police academy and once you do, you’ll be all set to become a police officer. You’ll get a gun, badge and handcuffs! Way better than playing cops and robbers as a kid, right? As a police officer you’ll be writing a lot of traffic tickets, preparing incident reports and occasionally apprehending and arresting criminal suspects. Nothing too exciting, but you’ve got to start somewhere.

  • Get Promoted to Detective:

You’ll want to work super hard and get promoted after gaining the right experience. Most police departments require that you apply to become a homicide detective and go through the interview process. You will also be required to pass an examination and have a pretty stellar job performance.

  • Continual Education:

Homicide detectives will be required to partake in ongoing training to keep your skills up to snuff and to learn any new skills that may be needed. Some of the training that you can expect to participate in will be firearms recertification and courses in law enforcement skills and training. These courses and re-certifications may be provided through the police force or third party vendors.

  • Advance in Rank:

There may be different ranks for homicide detectives depending on the police department that you are employed with. The higher ranked detectives are sometimes responsible for monitoring the lower ranked detectives along with the regular police officers. It will take lots of experience, continual education and some serious gusto to advance in rank within your department. We know you can do it though!

Homicide Detective Requirements

 Now that we know all of the steps that show us how to become a homicide detective, how about we find out what exactly what the homicide detective requirements are. It is a rather lengthy process to become a homicide detective and it is by no means an entry level position. The requirements start out very simply with an age minimum of 21 years old, being in good physical health and must have the ability to successfully pass both a criminal background check and drug test.

Once the additional requirements are met, you’ll get to the more difficult and time consuming ones. You will be required to serve your time as a regular police officer. You will also need to have an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or law enforcement.

Some key skills that you will want to have to become a successful homicide detective are the ability to multi-task, leadership skills, communication skills and perceptiveness. You will also need to be empathetic. The reason this is important is because you will be involved with victim’s families that are experiencing a great loss and a little kindness and compassion can go a long way.

Homicide Detective Job Description

Homicide detectives have the very important job of gathering the facts and collecting evidence for crimes where a homicide was committed. A homicide detective has many responsibilities that are required for each case they are assigned.

You will be tasked to initially manage the crime scene to prevent anyone that doesn’t belong there from intruding on the scene. You will also be responsible for making sure that there aren’t any disturbances in the scene to maintain the integrity of the evidence. While at the crime scene you will also have to be on the lookout for and collect evidence. While at the crime scene you will have to assign the proper personnel to perform the necessary investigative duties. You will likely be in charge of lower ranking deputies and the crime scene investigation crew.

As a homicide detective you will be tasked with the sometimes unpleasant job of questioning witnesses to the murder or any related incidents. You’ll also have to question those that had any type of relationship with the victim, whether it is family, friends or co-workers. The questioning helps you to get a feel for the victim and their life prior to the murder. It will also help you get an idea of who the potential suspects may be. Many bases are covered to say the least.

Reconstructing the murder is an integral part of your job as a homicide detective. Performing a reconstruction will be done based upon what eye witnesses report as well as physical forensic evidence that is collected. The recreation of the crime scene and the incident will help you with the next integral job duty. A motive will need to be determined, method of the crime itself and what the motive or intent for the murder was. We are sure that you can see how the reconstruction would be very helpful here.

Once you have locked down a suspect and have all the evidence needed to press charges, you will have to prepare for court. In a courtroom setting you will have to testify about all of the evidence that you collected, your questioning of those that knew the victim and any other pertinent information that was involved with the case.

We’d also like to quickly mention that you may need to work closely with other organizations such as the FBI or other police departments. Sometimes this is required so that you are able to work the case and solve the crime. Remember there is no “I” in team…even when you are a homicide detective.

How to Become a Homicide Detective without Being a Cop

Unfortunately, there isn’t a way to become a homicide detective without first working in the trenches and paying your dues as a regular cop on the beat. We know this may not be exactly what you wanted to hear, but it’s really for the best. We are going to toss a glass half full perspective your way for a second. Just call us Mary Sunshine!

Ok, so we know you are eager to get right to becoming a homicide detective and to solve your first case. We also know that writing traffic tickets and reports isn’t exactly on the top of your list either. Remember though that all of your time spent writing those reports and tickets as well as all the time spent learning procedures and laws, is actually going to help you in the long run. You will learn invaluable skills and will use them all throughout your career. We know it’s hard, but try to be patient and soak up as much information as possible.

School & Degree Options

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Homicide Detective Salary

According to the super helpful folks the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for a homicide detective is $56,980. This information is accurate as of May 2012. It is reported that the lowest 10 percent of detectives earn somewhere around $33,060 and the top 10 percent bring in roughly $93,450.

There are some helpful allowances that are made for things like uniforms and vehicle maintenance. There are some pretty sweet and extensive benefits and retirements options available to homicide detectives as well. These benefits and allowances are major high points and are often something that draws people to a career in law enforcement.

Most homicide detectives work on a full time schedule with allocated shift work required. There will be times that a case will probably have you burning the midnight oil and you will go over your scheduled 40 hours. Luckily paid overtime is a common thing in this field and who can complain about getting paid time and a half? Not us, that’s for sure! It’s reported that the more experienced detectives often receive preferential shift scheduling, so try to get in there and really shake a leg. The less experienced junior officers will often get the short end of the stick and be stuck working weekends, holidays and nights.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Homicide Detective

Good question and we are on the case to find an answer!

We know that you will have to become a police officer in order to eventually work your way up the ranks to become a homicide detective. To become a police officer it takes 12 to 16 weeks to complete the official police officer training program. Once on the force, badge and gun at the ready, you may be stuck in a probationary period for six months to three years. This can be a real drag, especially if you are already done with the schooling necessary to jump into the role of a police officer.

The duration of the probationary period will depend on your job performance, waiting lists for promotions or other positions available and the needs of the police department. There may be a lot of applicants that are looking to get promoted, so if you want to snag a position, try to make sure that your job performance is up to snuff. Dot all those I’s and cross all of those T’s on every report that you submit.

As we have already mentioned, you will want to complete your Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice or Law Enforcement. This will need to be done either before you begin your time as a police officer or while you are employed and on probation. The Associate’s degree will take you two years to complete if you attend each semester at a full time pace. The Bachelor’s degree will take you four years to complete if you schedule yourself at a full gorilla pace.

Since both degrees will take you two to four years to complete, you may want to at very least begin the course work before you are employed as a police officer. That jump start may mean that it takes you less time to reach your goal of becoming a homicide detective. So to recap – it will take you two to four years to complete your degree, 12 to 16 weeks to become a trained police officer and six months to three years of probationary time. As you can see, becoming a homicide detective is not a quick process by any means, but it can be done and is worth the wait.

Meet the Phoenix Homicide Detectives – Check Out This Video

It isn’t every day that we get to hear personal accounts and the experiences of real life homicide detectives. As much as we love our Law and Order reruns, not much can compare to real stories from the real deal.

The lead homicide detective, Steve Orona, was on his local news station to talk about the great Phoenix Police Homicide Detectives that he works with. The group of detectives in this unit is known nationally as one of the best units known in the country. The Phoenix Police Homicide Detectives are actually depicted in the reality TV show in the A&E network called “The First 48”. They have an incredibly high rate of solving their cases and this is what prompted A&E to follow them so closely with cameras and built a show around the Phoenix detectives.

Detective Orona explains that he has always wanted to have a career as a homicide detective. He talks about the murder of his brother in November of 1991. His brother was just 28 years old when he was murdered and was gone too soon. His murder is still unsolved to this day. This is why he became a detective and has maintained an outstanding career for over 30 years.

His own personal and tragic experience with murder has helped him to be a better detective. It has taught him how to help the victims and their families in a profound way. His career as a homicide detective has also really helped him to process the unsolved murder of his brother as well.

In the video he talks about how a crime of this magnitude has the ability to strike the nerve of the community like no other crime. It becomes up to the homicide detectives to become advocates for the victim and family and leaves it to you to seek justice for them. There are many day to day challenges, but it is all taken in stride with the team effort provided by the other detectives and officers of the Phoenix Homicide division.

Detective Orona speaks very highly of his fellow team mates and speaks very highly of the team effort that is put into every case. He says that they are a very effective and professional unit and is impressed with the commitment level put forth by the Phoenix Police Homicide Detectives. If you ask us, Phoenix is pretty lucky to have such a dedicated homicide detective on their side.

Final Grade

Now that we’ve covered the gamut of how to become a homicide detective, we think it’s time to tie it all up in one nice little package. So in that spirit, it’s report card time! Let’s see what the final grade for a career as a homicide detective is.

  • Degree vs Debt: A-

The degree to debt ratio is really a drop in the bucket when pursuing a job as a homicide detective. The pay alone is pretty substantial for starters, even in the lower 10th percent of detectives. Your debt due to schooling won’t be ridiculously high or anything because you are only required to have an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or law enforcement. There is also the added benefit of working as a police officer while waiting to complete your probationary period, which will allow you to pay off your debt sooner in most cases. Two thumbs up here for sure and a much deserved grade of an A-.

  • Degree Difficulty: B+

A degree in criminal justice or law enforcement is really not that difficult for most people. There aren’t a ton of math or science classes, which are common areas for people to experience a bit of strain. These are also not very technical degrees and that can be a huge plus for some as well. It will be a lot of reading, paper writing and case studies, however. You may want to stock up on the Starbucks to help you stay awake and focused.

  • Happiness Quotient: C+

The job as a homicide detective is a grim one for certain. There really isn’t any other way to slice it. You are dealing with death and murder during every case. Seeing dead bodies is hard enough, but the impact that dealing with the families that are in pain too has to be a real struggle. We can also only imagine how difficult it would be to see some of the things that homicide detectives see on a nearly daily basis. It’s a hard job that is emotionally and physically draining. There are long hours and sometimes you will have to go days without much of a break. The upside to it is that you are providing the victims and their families with closure and will be bringing their murderer to justice. It’s a very noble profession and much credit and respect should be given.

  • Job Outlook: B-

The job growth for homicide detectives is less than ideal. It is a measly 5% when compared to all other jobs and industries. That is pretty slow job growth from 2012 to 2022 and isn’t anything that we are going to write home about. Even though the growth rate of homicide detective positions is so low, there will almost always be a job for you. This is the case because even with crime rates dropping, the need for law enforcement officers is always high. The need is high because it is with the aid of those officers that rates stay low. It’s very cyclical and symbiotic.

Sources and Recommended Reading

Sources, get your sources here! Our excellent sources of information help us to bring this all together for you in one nice little package. As usual, we dropped the links for the websites throughout the article. For those of you that want to have the sites right and from of you for reference, we’ll we’ve got you guys covered too. We’re givers like that (insert winky emoticon here). Go ahead and get click happy while you check out all of these links and the information within them.

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