Job description

Criminal investigators analyse evidence, perform searches, conduct interviews with witnesses and undergo surveillance to solve crimes, identify and arrest suspects, and prevent future criminal activities. They typically work for local, state/provincial or federal law enforcement agencies.


    • Start an investigation by learning about the crime, jotting down findings and preparing reports
    • Identify what the specific crime was and determine the cause
    • Obtain, confirm and organise records, data and other types of evidence
    • Search for fingerprints, hair fibres and other elements pertinent to DNA analysis
    • Interview witnesses, relations and suspects to compile more information
    • Find out what evidence is needed to detain potential suspects
    • Apply, receive and execute search and arrest warrants to advance the investigation
    • Study profiles of suspects, such as physical attributes, possible motives and alibis
    • Work with other law enforcement officials and exchange information relevant to the case
    • Establish and cultivate relationships with informants to gather information
    • Provide courtroom testimony
    • Compose probable cause affidavits

Skills and qualities

Attention to detail
Analytical thinking
Numerical reasoning
Physical stamina

Job outlook

Projected growth
The projected growth rate of employment in the US from 2016 to 2026, based on data collected through the BLS Employment Projections (EP) programme. The national average growth rate for all professions is 7%.


New jobs
The number of jobs projected to become available in the US between 2016 and 2026, based on data collected through the BLS Employment Projections (EP) programme.


Automation risk
The probability of computerisation, based on data published in ‘The Future of Employment’, a 2013 working paper by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne.


Career progression

Most criminal investigators start as police officers. With experience, they can advance to a management role within the same department or to higher roles within law enforcement.

Working conditions

Average hours

50h/ week

Typical schedule

Full Time

Nights, weekends, holidays occasionally

Criminal investigators generally work Monday to Friday, but their hours will be typically longer at the start of an investigation because they need to gather as much fresh evidence as possible and track new leads as quickly as they can. On occasion, you could clock in 20 consecutive hours, and you may be subjected to respond to crime scenes at all hours of the day.

As a criminal investigator, you will work in all sorts of environments during your shift, including at a police station, at a crime scene, in a laboratory and on the road to talk to witnesses, interview relations and arrest suspects.


Bottom 10%




Top 10%


Annual salary estimates are based on percentile wage data collected through the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey of US workers.

Qualifications and training

Education level

High school

Specialist training

Study time


You will generally need a high school diploma to become a criminal investigator, although some agencies may require a college degree in law enforcement, criminal justice or a related subject. You will then need to complete specialist training and supervised experience in areas such as patrol, self-defence and firearm use.

Last Updated: Wednesday, November 2, 2022

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