Career Choice: Criminal Investigator

Career Choice: Criminal Investigator
  • Type: Career Type
  • Opening Intro -

    College students who are considering a career in criminal justice have many options available to them.

    A criminal investigator is one such choice, a person that is tasked with investigating suspected criminal violations of federal, state, or local laws as a means to determine if evidence is sufficient to recommend prosecution.


These professionals, sometimes known as special agents, procure and confirm evidence by interviewing and examining suspects and witnesses or by analyzing data. Much of what criminal investigators know they learn on the job. However, a college education can be beneficial and may be required by some law enforcement agencies.


A high school diploma may be all that is required to enable a police officer to make the transition to criminal investigator or detective. Federal agencies require candidates to have previous experience, college education or a combination of the two. A bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or courses in accounting, information services, computer science or electrical engineering can be advantageous according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Other pluses include foreign language skills or a degree from an accredited law school.


The mean annual wage for detectives and criminal investigators was $73,010 as of May 2010 reports the BLS. Those in the 10th percentile earned $38,850 per year while those investigators in the 25th and 50th percentile earned $50,020 and $68,820, respectively. Highest wages ranging from about $90,750 to more than $119,320 was realized by those in the highest percentiles.


Almost all criminal investigators worked for federal, state or local governments; a handful worked for the United States Postal Service or colleges and universities. Federal workers earned the highest wages at $93,210 per year followed by the postal service at $90,770. Pay dropped considerably for the next three best paying categories with higher education institutions paying $62,300 per year followed by local and state governments paying $61,930 and $54,340, respectively.


Top pay for criminal investigators was found on the coasts with the District of Columbia leading with an annual mean wage of $107,150. New Jersey and Delaware followed, with average wages of $92,190 and $91,910, respectively. Wages in California at $90,150 and Alaska at $87,800 were well above the national mean. Pay was lowest in the U.S. southeast with North Carolina at $50,990, Arkansas at $51,950 and Mississippi at $54,910 according to the BLS.

Job Forecast

The job forecast for criminal investigators is a bright one, with a 17 percent growth forecast for 2008 to 2018. That rate is higher than the increase projected for all jobs. Bilingual applicants with several years of law enforcement history are expected to have the best chance at finding work reports the BLS.


U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition; Police and Detectives; December 2009

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; Occupational Employment Statistics; 33-3021 Detectives and Criminal Investigators; May 2011

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Categories: Career Planning