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What Does a Police Detective Do?

 What does a Police Detective do?

Being a police detective isn’t quite what you see on your favorite crime TV shows, with all the high-tech crime fighting tools, beating down the doors of criminals, and chasing bad guys. But it’s still a fascinating and rewarding career helping people by solving thefts, bank robberies, homicides and taking down drug dealers.

Day-in-the-life of a Police Detective

Meet Detective Sergeant Steve Scharschmidt with the police department in Parma Heights, Ohio.  He’s been on the police force for over 25 years.  Detective Scharschmidt has spent 18 years in the detective bureau.  On a typical day, he starts by screening all reports that police officers take on the road the day before and determines what detectives need to follow up on and what they don’t.  For instance, for an OVI (Operating a Vehicle Impaired) the person is charged and goes to court so there is nothing for the detective to do with that case.  But if there is a burglary, that is something they need to follow up on, so Detective Scharschmidt assigns that case to a detective.  In bigger cities, they have specific departments for different detectives dedicated to particular crimes, like homicide, burglary, drugs and financial crimes.  But Parma Heights is a small department, so Detective Scharschmidt has to have the skills to be able to work all of those types of cases at one time.

When working a case, Detective Scharschmidt doesn’t have high-tech crime fighting tools like you might see on a TV show.  He spends a lot of his time on the computer.  He reviews evidence. He also spends a lot of time talking to people and conducting interviews.  Many people have a misconception about the technology available to the police detectives to solve a crime.  If they do get DNA evidence from a crime, they have to ship it off to a laboratory and it takes weeks to get the results-not seconds to find a match like you see on TV.  They don’t have high-tech surveillance cameras that can zoom in and identify suspects with special facial recognization software like you see on TV. Detective Scharschmidt says it’s a lot like solving a puzzle and it can take time to figure it out depending on what evidence you have to work with.  That’s why he enjoys it so much.

Best skills for a police detective

Detective Scharschmidt says the most important skill needed to be a police detective is you must be good with people.  You have to be able to communicate and talk with all kinds of people from a judge to a homeless person.  As a police detective, you deal with people every day.   You spend much of your time interviewing and interrogating people. Many times you are dealing with them when they are having a really bad day.  He says it’s important to have compassion and a passion for truly wanting to help people.

What education do you need to be a police detective?

If you want to be a police officer or police detective, you have to get trained in the police academy and pass a state test.  In some cities, they want you to first have a college degree before you even take a civil service test, but that’s not required in all cities.  In Parma Heights, you don’t need a college degree. If you score well on the test, you can go through their screening process, which includes a polygraph test, medical examination, and a psychological examination.

Also, once you become a police officer one of the keys to being a great police officer and police detective is continuing education. Police officers and detectives in Parma Heights go through mandatory training each year.  They take special classes in different areas including Facebook investigations, self-defense, traffic enforcement, interrogations techniques and more.

How do you become a police detective?

If you are seriously interested in becoming a police officer and eventually a detective, Detective Scharschmidt suggests you pay to put yourself through the police academy.  Many cities are facing budget issues, so if you pay your own way through the police academy that looks good.  Also, consider joining an auxiliary police force.  In most cases those are unpaid, volunteer jobs.  It shows a future employer that you really are dedicated to becoming a police officer if you’re willing to do it for free.  Also, Detective Scharschmidt strongly suggests you keep your background clean.  In most cases, even if you have a minor offense on your record, you won’t be able to become a police officer or police detective.


Criminal Justice degree from Baldwin Wallace University


The median salary of a police detective is $59,000 a year according to Payscale.com

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