How To Become a Homicide Detective

As the job title suggests, a homicide detective is responsible for investigating murder cases and working to arrest the perpetrators. The homicide detective manages every aspect of these investigations interfacing with specialists in the department such as evidence technicians or forensic analysts. With evidence collection and analysis becoming much more advanced due to the growth in technology, the homicide detective must develop a fluency in this area to keep up. Usually, the homicide detective works with an investigative team and will delegate many tasks to other officers within the department.

Once the investigation produces some leads the homicide detective will follow up with more traditional types–surveillance, database searches, and witness questioning. Once the investigation results in an apprehension the homicide detective, takes a primary role in the interrogation of the suspect and questioning witnesses. They may also provide expert testimony for the prosecution once the case goes to trial.


A police department selects homicide detective candidates from their pool of uniformed officers. Once an officer puts in several years of good work on the street, he may desire a promotion within the department. At this point, some officers choose to become a sergeant and supervise other police officers. Alternately, an officer can transition to investigative work and become a detective. There are other promotional paths within the department, but these two roles are the most common.

The officer taking the investigative route will apply for promotion to a detective position and/or registers to take the detective examination. The candidate will often have his professional qualifications reviewed to select detective hires with a record of excellent police work, strong analytical and deductive skills and an efficient management of departmental resources. Once a candidate fulfills the qualification requirements he may apply for a position within the homicide department. In most agencies, the homicide department is a highly sought after and competitive specialization. For that reason, it may take multiple attempts before a candidate is successful in becoming a homicide detective.

An individual interested in a career as a homicide detective must first meet the rigorous qualification criteria for police service. This process includes background checks along with rigorous mental and physical testing. If a candidate gets through the initial evaluation phase he’ll go through an extensive training program at the police academy. Once on the force, there are usually no additional educational requirements for detective status though in some departments earning a college degree may result in a higher salary. In addition, many departments will require homicide detectives to complete specialized training on an ongoing basis.


A homicide detective is essentially the ‘case manager’ for murder investigations. His job usually begins with effective crime scene management focused on preserving the integrity of physical evidence. Once the investigation begins, the homicide detective is responsible for managing the investigative team and delegating responsibilities. In some cases, the detective may need to interface with other law enforcement and/or public safety agencies to facilitate the investigation.

The homicide detective must also do the ‘bread and butter’ police work necessary to apprehend a suspect and build a case for the prosecution. This work may entail questioning witnesses, recreating the crime, and assimilating the results of evidence analysis. The goal is to determine a motive, method, and the intent of a murder that may also involve serving as a prosecutorial witness at trial.


The average salary for a homicide detective in the United States is approximately $75,000 a year with the top ten percent earning over $120,000 a year. Average pay varies widely among agencies with Federal agencies paying more than local police departments. Local police agencies pay an average salary of approximately $62,000 while federal agencies have an average salary of approximately $96,000.

As is the case with many law enforcement jobs, the salary that a homicide detective can expect will vary from one jurisdiction to another. This disparity often reflects the cost of living in a specific area but may also be a function of job demands. For example, a homicide detective in a major urban area will have a higher volume of murder cases to deal with than his rural counterpart and his compensation will reflect this. Advanced education, experience and the completion of on-the-job training programs may also enhance the annual pay of a homicide detective.

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