How to Become a Homicide Detective – In 4 Steps + Career Guide

Homicide detectives are law enforcement officers dedicated to investigating cases involving suspicious deaths, including murder, attempted murder, and manslaughter.

Homicide Detective

This is a challenging and demanding career, but it can also be gratifying, especially for people with a strong sense of justice.

Read on to learn more about homicide detectives and see if this career path suits you.

Job Description: What Does a Homicide Detective Do?

Homicide detectives specialize in homicide cases, which are acts where a person kills or attempts to kill another person.

To get to the bottom of cases, they must examine crime scenes and collect evidence.

Detectives must also interview people who may be able to provide additional information about the case, including potential witnesses, suspects, and friends and family members of the deceased.

While homicide detectives must have strong investigative skills, they must also be able to collaborate with police officers and other law enforcement professionals, like forensic pathologists.

If a case a homicide detective is investigating goes to trial, they may be required to work alongside the district attorney or testify about their findings in court.


  • Securing and analyzing crime scenes
  • Gathering and processing evidence
  • Conducting interviews with witnesses, suspects, and other people who can provide information about a case
  • Following up on leads
  • Obtaining warrants and conducting searches
  • Filling out and filing paperwork relevant to the case
  • Analyzing evidence
  • Working alongside other law enforcement professionals
  • Identifying suspects and making arrests
  • Preparing documents and providing testimony for court cases

Homicide Detective Salary: How Much Can You Earn?

Salaries for homicide detectives can vary based on many factors, including an officer’s experience level and the location where the officer works.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, annual wages for criminal investigators and detectives ranged between $47,990 and $150,570 in May 2022, with a median salary of $86,280.

Hourly wages ranged from $23.07 to $72.39.

Base salaries for homicide detectives may be supplemented by shift differential pay, longevity pay, and additional overtime pay.

Detectives may also receive additional forms of compensation, including equipment and uniform allowances.

Law enforcement officers like homicide detectives typically receive excellent benefits, including retirement packages, insurance coverage, and paid time off.

Salary Information by State

State Employed Avg. Annual Salary Avg. Hourly Pay Top 10% Annual Salary Bottom 10% Annual Salary
District of Columbia2,870$133,890$64.37$175,340$85,560
New Hampshire390$83,970$40.37$145,270$54,720
New Jersey3,740$103,960$49.98$163,240$60,990
New Mexico1,840$77,480$37.25$99,990$43,830
New York9,950$110,390$53.07$169,100$61,410
North Carolina3,060$66,150$31.80$122,760$43,400
North Dakota370$80,890$38.89$129,750$48,030
Rhode Island390$90,340$43.43$140,860$70,160
South Carolina1,160$68,170$32.77$137,610$40,980
South Dakota220$74,700$35.91$129,750$46,450
West Virginia230$87,670$42.15$149,410$41,700
Puerto Rico520$85,560$41.14$145,480$33,270

Annual Average Salary: Top 10 States

The top earning state in the field is District of Columbia, where the average salary is $133,890.

These are the top 10 earning states in the field:

  • District of Columbia - $133,890
  • Alaska - $128,410
  • Hawaii - $119,290
  • Maryland - $117,800
  • Washington - $110,620
  • New York - $110,390
  • California - $110,320
  • New Jersey - $103,960
  • Illinois - $100,140
  • Virginia - $100,010
* Salary information based on the May 2022 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Detectives and Criminal Investigators, OCC Code 33-3021, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

How to Become a Homicide Detective: Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1 – Obtain a High School Diploma or GED

At a minimum, you’ll need a high school diploma or equivalent to work in law enforcement.

If you haven’t graduated from high school, you must complete the General Educational Development (GED) test. GED requirements vary from state to state.

Check your state’s requirements to see how to proceed.

Step 2 – Get a College Degree in a Relevant Subject

While you may be able to land a job as a police officer with a high school diploma or equivalent, advanced law enforcement positions, such as homicide detectives, typically require a degree.

At a minimum, you’ll need an associate’s degree in a relevant subject, such as law enforcement or criminal justice.

Obtaining a bachelor’s degree will increase your chances of success.

If possible, you should try to study subjects relevant to your field, such as criminal psychology or criminology.

Obtaining this sort of specialized knowledge will prepare you to work as a homicide detective and will help you stand out from other applicants in your field.

Step 3 – Complete Police Academy Training

A college degree can help prepare you to work in law enforcement, but you’ll need additional training before you can enter the field.

Licensing and certification requirements for police officers are different in each state, but most departments will require you to complete a police academy training program before you begin working as a law enforcement officer.

Some police academies have open enrollment, but others are highly selective, and you may have to meet specific physical and academic requirements to be admitted.

You may be required to undergo psychological testing, and your admission may be contingent on passing a background check and drug test.

In some states, you can only be admitted to the police academy if you have already been hired by a police department.

During your time at the police academy, you’ll receive instruction in topics designed to better prepare you for work in the field.

Programs vary greatly from state to state, but the subjects covered may include police procedures, negotiation techniques, and weapons training.

After completing your academy training, you may also be required to complete in-service training requirements or obtain additional certification

While the total length of these training programs varies, police officers go through 21 weeks of training on average before working in the field.

Step 4 – Gain Additional Experience in Law Enforcement

Homicide detective work is highly complex, and you’ll need to spend time working as a police officer before you can apply for these kinds of specialized positions.

While the amount of experience you’ll need may vary, most police departments prefer that homicide detectives have at least a few years of experience under their belts.

Working in entry-level law enforcement positions will allow you to develop essential skills required for a homicide detective, such as investigative, interview, and evidence-collection skills.

If you continue to work as an officer and demonstrate your qualifications, you’ll eventually get opportunities to move up the ranks and start working as a detective.

Homicide Detective Education Requirements

It’s possible to work in law enforcement without a college degree, but a lack of education can make it difficult to land jobs in a challenging field like homicide investigations.

Some police departments may consider promoting experienced officers without a degree, but having a degree will significantly boost your chances of landing a job as a homicide detective.

Educational requirements can vary from one law enforcement agency to the next, but most police departments prefer that detectives have a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field.

Majoring in a subject like criminal justice or criminology will boost your chances of success.

You should also consider minoring in a subject that can aid you in your future career, such as psychology or forensic science.

It’s important to keep in mind that homicide detective work isn’t an entry-level position, and you’ll need to gain additional experience in your field before you can be promoted to a detective position.

While you can obtain your degree before beginning a career in law enforcement, you can also go back to school and obtain your degree at a later date.

Some law enforcement agencies even offer education assistance, making it easier for you to get a bachelor’s degree and further your career.

Licensing & Certification

To qualify for a homicide detective position, you’ll need to spend time working as a police officer.

While licensing and certification requirements for law enforcement officers vary across the U.S., every state has some sort of police training commission.

In many locations, officers must complete a police academy training program and obtain certification from a state regulatory agency.

These training programs are designed to uphold standards and prepare police officers for work in law enforcement.

The certification process may involve passing written exams, completing physical fitness tests, or undergoing other types of evaluations, such as a drug screening or a criminal background check.

Licensing boards are different from state to state. Many locations, including Connecticut, Idaho, and Georgia, follow the standards established by the POST (police officer standards and training) commission.

Other states have different names for their regulatory boards.

For example, law enforcement in Florida is regulated by the Criminal Justice Standards Training Commission, while Indiana uses the Law Enforcement Training Board.

Due to these different regulatory boards, curriculum, and training requirements vary across states, so it’s essential that you research requirements in your state before pursuing work in this field.

In some areas, you may be required to meet continuing education requirements to maintain your employment certificate after you obtain work in this field.

These requirements are usually minimal, and they can often be completed online.

Keeping up with in-service training programs is essential to obtaining promotions and launching a career as a homicide detective.

Job Outlook for Homicide Detectives

While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t have specific data for homicide detectives, employment levels for police officers and detectives are expected to increase by 3% between 2022 and 2032.

This is consistent with the average level of growth across all occupations.

Over the next ten years, it’s predicted that there will be approximately 64,500 new openings for police officer and detective positions each year.

It’s expected that many new positions will open up when officers retire or leave law enforcement to work in other fields.

Should You Become a Homicide Detective? A Data-Driven Review

Overall Satisfaction

Law enforcement officers have a fairly high job satisfaction rate, and the complex, challenging nature of homicide detective work makes this career especially rewarding.

Although this job involves long hours and can be demanding, it also provides a sense of fulfillment.

Homicide investigations require detectives to think creatively and keep their minds sharp.

Successfully solving these cases provides detectives with a sense of personal satisfaction, and it also allows them to give back to the communities they work in.

While nothing can replace lost lives, homicide investigations can give families closure and justice.

Average Salary

Salaries vary based on location, but the average base salary for a homicide detective is $77,824.

In addition to their salary, homicide detectives often have exceptional benefits packages that include health insurance, retirement, vacation time, and other perks.

Some homicide detectives may be able to increase their earnings through overtime, shift differential pay, and additional bonuses.

Many law enforcement agencies also offer longevity pay, which means that homicide detectives may be able to increase their earnings as they spend more time on the job.

Job Growth Outlook

Employment rates for police officers and detectives, including homicide detectives, are expected to go up by approximately 3% from 2022 to 2032, with around 64,500 new jobs being added each year.

This rate of increase is in line with the average across all jobs.

Although there’s more competition for homicide detective jobs than other law enforcement positions, qualified, experienced candidates are still highly in demand.

If you have a genuine passion for law enforcement and are interested in homicide investigations, this is a field worth pursuing.

Education Duration

Most law enforcement agencies prefer that homicide detectives have a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, which typically takes four years to complete.

To work in law enforcement, you’ll also need to complete training at the police academy.

The length of these programs varies, but on average, law enforcement officers go through 21 weeks of training before they start working.

An officer may also be required to complete continuing education programs or obtain additional certifications to qualify for a position as a homicide detective.

Personal Skills Needed

Homicide detectives are tasked with extremely difficult and high-stakes cases, which means they’ll need to develop a wide assortment of skills to successfully perform their job.

While detectives rely on a wide range of abilities, some of the most essential skills they use include:

  • Critical thinking and problem-solving skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Oral and written communication skills
  • Interviewing techniques
  • Physical fitness
  • Teamwork and collaboration
  • Stress management skills
  • Knowledge of the law and legal procedure
  • A strong sense of ethics
  • Empathy

Frequently Asked Questions

How long do you have to go to school to become a homicide detective?

While educational requirements for homicide detective positions can vary, most positions require a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, such as criminal justice.

This degree typically takes four years to complete.

To work in law enforcement, you’ll also need to go through police academy training, which can usually be completed in less than six months.

Some police departments may also require officers to complete continuing education programs.

How much money does a homicide detective make a year?

Salaries for a homicide detective range from $47,990 to $150,570 per year.

The median salary for a homicide detective is $86,280, while the average salary is $77,824.

In addition to their base salary, homicide detectives typically can increase their wages through overtime pay, shift differentials, and other types of bonuses.

Law enforcement officers also have access to excellent benefits packages that include health and retirement benefits.

What skills do you need to have to be a homicide detective?

Homicide detectives must develop the skills needed to investigate complex crimes.

These skills include strong analytical abilities, attention to detail, and effective oral and written communication skills.

Detectives must also develop the critical thinking necessary to evaluate evidence objectively.

Homicide detectives often find themselves in unpredictable situations, so the ability to adapt and think on the fly can come in handy.

Since detectives may have to work with friends and family members of victims, sensitivity and empathy are also crucial.

Are homicide detectives in high demand?

The difficult nature of homicide detective work means qualified applicants are always in high demand.

Employment rates for police officers and detectives are expected to steadily increase over the next decade, with new jobs being added each year.

Promotion opportunities are limited, so it may take time to find a position as a homicide detective, but experienced candidates with the right skills are likely to be offered promotion opportunities throughout their careers.

What kind of education do you need to be a homicide detective?

Typically, homicide detectives are expected to have a bachelor’s degree in a subject like criminal justice.

Majoring in criminal justice gives students the chance to study topics essential to this field, such as law enforcement, the court system, and criminal behavior.

A degree in another relevant field, such as law enforcement or police science, may also be acceptable.

To work as a homicide detective, you’ll also need to obtain on-the-job experience by working as a police officer.

Chelsea Wilson

About Chelsea Wilson

Chelsea Wilson is the Community Relations Manager for Washington University School of Law’s distance learning LLM degree program, which provides foreign trained attorneys with the opportunity to earn a Master of Laws degree from a top-tier American university from anywhere in the world.

Leave a Reply

Search Programs