Career Development

What Does a Criminal Investigator Do?

Find out what a criminal investigator does, how to get this job, and what it takes to succeed as a criminal investigator.

Criminal investigators are responsible for investigating crimes and other violations of the law. They gather evidence, interview witnesses, and interrogate suspects in an effort to determine who committed a crime and how it was done.

Criminal investigators may work for local or federal law enforcement agencies, but they also commonly work as private contractors for companies that have been victimized by a crime. Their job is to investigate these crimes and figure out what happened so that their employer can take steps to prevent future incidents from occurring.

Criminal Investigator Job Duties

Criminal investigators have a wide range of responsibilities, which can include:

  • Gathering and analyzing forensic evidence, such as DNA samples, fingerprints, and handwriting samples, to help identify suspects or locate physical evidence
  • Conducting interviews with witnesses or suspects to obtain information about an incident or crime
  • Analyzing crime scene evidence, such as fingerprints or DNA samples, to identify suspects or victims
  • Conducting surveillance of suspects, collecting background information on persons of interest, or participating in sting operations
  • Collecting evidence from crime scenes and interviewing witnesses to gather information about crimes
  • Inspecting crime scenes for evidence, taking photographs of the scene, and collecting samples for DNA testing
  • Conducting interviews with victims or witnesses to determine what happened and to identify suspects
  • Conducting background checks on individuals who may have access to sensitive information or facilities
  • Conducting polygraph tests on suspects to determine whether they are lying about any involvement in criminal activity

Criminal Investigator Salary & Outlook

Criminal investigators’ salaries vary depending on their level of education, years of experience, and the type of work they do. Those who work for law enforcement agencies typically earn more than those who work for private companies.

  • Median Annual Salary: $62,500 ($30.05/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $145,000 ($69.71/hour)

The employment of criminal investigators is expected to grow slower than average over the next decade.

The need to prevent and solve crimes will maintain demand for these workers. However, automation may limit employment growth because some tasks currently performed by criminal investigators can be done more quickly and cheaply by computers.

Criminal Investigator Job Requirements

A criminal investigator typically needs to have the following qualifications:

Education: Entry-level criminal investigators are typically required to have a minimum of a high school diploma or GED. Some criminal investigators choose to pursue a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related field. These degrees typically take four years to complete and include coursework in criminal law, criminology, criminal psychology, forensic science and criminal procedure.

Training & Experience: Most criminal investigators receive on-the-job training to learn the specific processes and procedures of their agency. Training may include shadowing current investigators or learning from a supervisor or senior investigator. Training may last for a few days to a few months, depending on the agency and the role.

Certifications & Licenses: Certifications are not usually a requirement to become a criminal investigator, but they can help you stand out from other candidates when applying for jobs.

Criminal Investigator Skills

Criminal investigators need the following skills in order to be successful:

Technical skills: As a criminal investigator, you need to be able to use a variety of technology and software to gather and interpret information. This includes computer programs, databases, software for analyzing data, surveillance equipment and more. You need to be able to use these tools to gather evidence and information that can help solve a case.

Communication skills: Communication skills are necessary for criminal investigators to convey information to suspects, victims and other law enforcement officials. They also use their communication skills to write reports and convey information to their supervisors. Effective communication skills can help investigators gather information from suspects and witnesses during an investigation.

Investigative skills: A criminal investigator’s ability to gather evidence and solve crimes is dependent on their investigative skills. These skills include the ability to notice details, ask the right questions and interpret evidence. Criminal investigators use their investigative skills to find suspects, gather evidence and solve crimes.

Analytical skills: Analytical skills are the ability to gather information and draw conclusions from it. This is a very important skill for criminal investigators as they need to be able to interpret evidence and find connections between different pieces of information.

Research skills: As a criminal investigator, you need to be able to conduct thorough research to find information about suspects, crime scenes and evidence. This can include searching through databases, looking through files and records and interviewing people to gather information.

Criminal Investigator Work Environment

Criminal investigators typically work 40 hours per week, but because they may be required to work evenings, weekends, and holidays to conduct surveillance or interviews, their hours can be irregular. They may also work long hours when they are working on a case that is going to trial. Many criminal investigators are required to carry a firearm and a badge and must be willing to use force if necessary. They may be exposed to dangerous situations and must be able to handle stress well. Some criminal investigators travel frequently, and some may be required to relocate.

Criminal Investigator Trends

Here are three trends influencing how criminal investigators work. Criminal investigators will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.

The Use of Technology in Investigations

The use of technology in criminal investigations is becoming increasingly common, as investigators are able to use technology to gather evidence and track down suspects.

As technology becomes more prevalent in investigations, criminal investigators will need to learn how to use these tools in order to be successful. This includes learning how to use software to track down suspects, collect data, and analyze evidence.

More Collaboration Between Law Enforcement and Private Companies

Law enforcement agencies are increasingly collaborating with private companies in order to solve crimes. This trend is due to the fact that private companies often have access to resources that law enforcement does not, such as financial records or surveillance footage.

As a criminal investigator, you should be aware of this trend and prepare yourself to work with private companies in order to solve crimes. This may include developing relationships with private company employees or working with them on joint investigations.

Greater Focus on Cybercrime

As cybercrime becomes more common, criminal investigators are focusing their efforts on this area.

Criminal investigators who are well-versed in cybercrime can help law enforcement agencies by identifying hackers and tracking down stolen data. They can also help businesses protect themselves from cyberattacks.

How to Become a Criminal Investigator

A criminal investigator career can be both rewarding and challenging. It’s important to consider all the aspects of this job before you make a decision.

One of the most important things to think about is the type of work you want to do. Do you want to work in a lab, on the street, or in an office? Each area has its own unique challenges and rewards.

You should also consider your personal skills and abilities. Are you good at solving puzzles? Can you think critically? Are you able to stay calm under pressure? These are all important qualities for a successful criminal investigator.

Related: How to Write a Criminal Investigator Resume

Advancement Prospects

Many criminal investigators start their careers as police officers. After a few years on the job, they may be promoted to detective. Some may eventually become police chiefs or sheriffs.

Criminal investigators who work for the federal government may advance to supervisory or managerial positions. Some may become agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or other federal agencies.

Many criminal investigators retire from their careers after 20 or more years. Some become private investigators or security consultants.

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