If you thrive on challenges, enjoy problem solving and have a strong desire to keep people safe a career as a detective may suit you
Detectives are accredited police officers who work as Serious and Complex Crime Investigators or Specialist Investigators. They're responsible for managing a range of investigations including those concerning robbery, drugs, domestic violence, public and child protection, company fraud, cyber-crime, homicide and counter-terrorism.
The term 'detective' is not a rank but a descriptive title, which demonstrates your current role and reflects your skills, knowledge, training and experience in a particular field. Detectives work alongside their uniformed counterparts as equals in pay and rank.
Types of work
As a detective you can work in a number of specialist departments:
- criminal investigations department (CID) - handles incidents such as suspicious deaths, serious assaults, robbery, burglary and major property thefts, domestic abuse or racist abuse
- fraud squad - investigates company and financial fraud
- drugs squad - deals with drug trafficking investigations, which may be long-term and may also involve working with colleagues from other countries
- fire arms squad - investigates and responds to offences involving fire arms, including potential hostage situations
- child protection department - deals with offences against children
- Special Branch - investigates incidents relating to national security and international terrorism.
Further professional training is required when starting to work in any of these specialist units; it is possible to transfer to different units over the course of your career. Not all specialisms are offered by every police force and there is strong competition for some.
As a detective, you'll need to:
- manage and conduct a range of complex investigations in your area of responsibility
- gather, verify and assess all appropriate and available information to gain an accurate understanding of situations to an agreed case investigation plan
- develop and evaluate strategies to manage investigations, working closely and communicating with staff at all levels
- make decisions based on balancing risks, costs, benefits and the wider impact
- use cutting-edge technology to help with the investigations
- analyse and interpret data, examine records and documents
- prepare, complete and submit accurate case papers and evidential files to the highest professional standard and within set time limits
- handle and document exhibits
- deal with forensic material and its submissions
- conduct interviews and interrogations
- participate in and conduct raids, searches or arrests
- identify appropriate witnesses and obtain statements
- assess and report the potential for recruiting informants, or exploring other useful sources of information
- liaise with internal and external agencies relevant to your area of responsibility e.g. courts, schools, social work departments
- work with all colleagues as a team
- keep up to date with changes in legislation and procedures as they affect criminal investigation
- manage and lead teams of police staff.
- The starting salary for a newly qualified constable in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is £23,123, rising in annual increments to £38,382 at the top of the constable scale; the starting salary for constables in Scotland is £28,392, rising incrementally to £40,877 after ten years.
- Experienced staff in England, Wales and Northern Ireland earn between £39,693 and £43,134 as a sergeant, £49,176 and £55,512 as an inspector, £54,432 and £56,670 as a chief inspector, £65,478 to £77,340 as a superintendent and £81,156 to £85,614 as a chief superintendent.
- The ranks of assistant chief constable to chief constable receive a salary between £98,538 and £111,249 depending on the police force.
- In Scotland the salary ranges from £40,878 for sergeants to £86,433 for chief superintendents.
- In addition to basic pay, police officers in London receive regional allowances of up to £6,735 per annum.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Detectives also receive a range of benefits, including:
- a pension
- flexible work schedule
- part-time work options
- a minimum of 22 days annual leave (28 days in Scotland), plus statutory holidays
- paid sick leave
- occupational health support
- childcare schemes
- parental leave
- access to trade unions
- access to sports and social facilities.
A rent or housing allowance is available for staff working in London and various locations in the South East.
Typically you'll work 40 hours per week, and shifts vary depending on the police force you work for. You may have to work unsocial hours, depending on your type of work and branch.
Flexible and part-time hours are available, but depend on the individual police force and your role.
What to expect
- You'll usually work on several cases at the same time and each day will bring a range of different tasks and challenges; you could be attending a crime scene, analysing evidence connected to a potential cyber crime, interviewing offenders and distressed victims or managing a team.
- Many detectives find protecting the public and bringing offenders to justice a very rewarding aspect of the job.
- You'll deal with difficult situations and people including handling aggression, disturbing or distressing situations. You'll receive training for this but it can be mentally and physically demanding.
- You have the opportunity to work in a variety of locations from rural countryside to small towns and densely populated areas, as well as overseas.
- There are structured pathways for further qualifications and promotion.
While many get into the role by first qualifying as a police officer, it's not essential to do so.
Graduates can take an alternative training route through the Police Now National Detective Programme, which over a two-year period develops the key skills and leadership qualities needed for the role.
To be eligible you need to have achieved at least a 2:2 at undergraduate level (or non-UK equivalent), and have a minimum of two years' post-graduation work experience.
The programme starts with the Detective Academy, an intensive 12-week residential training course which includes a mix of classroom and field training. To proceed further, you must successfully pass the National Investigators Exam (NIE).
The rest of the training consists of in-force training, immersion training (where you join a force in uniform to practice your core policing skills) and a series of rotations, where you'll undergo accelerated training to learn how to investigate serious and complex crime.
Entering this career via a Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship is also possible.
You'll need to have:
- excellent communication skills that effectively convey needs, instructions and decisions in a clear and concise manner, both written and spoken
- planning skills to conduct an investigation effectively
- good problem-solving skills for analysing and evaluating evidence from a range of sources
- emotional resilience and the ability to keep calm and confident in challenging situations
- decision-making skills for assessing situations, risk and evidence with a logical and analytical approach
- teamwork skills for building effective and collaborative relationships with colleagues and staff in external agencies
- a commitment to the ethical standards and values of the police force
- a strong sense of personal responsibility for your own actions and for dealing with problems that may arise
- respect for diversity, treating people with dignity regardless of their social, cultural or racial background, status, circumstances or appearance
- effective leadership skills (depending on rank and position) that inspire and motivate staff
- a good level of physical fitness and standard eyesight.
At least two years' work experience as a police constable is required before you can apply for detective training.
Due to the nature of the work it can be beneficial to first gain additional life and work experience in a different type of career before joining the police. If you have leadership experience you may apply to the police for direct entry at inspector level, which involves a 24-month training programme.
You can look for job vacancies at:
Once you're in a detective post you are free to apply for transfer to other departments in different forces. Overseas positions may be available.
The British Transport Police also employs experienced detectives.
To apply for jobs you have to be a British Citizen, a citizen of the European Union (EU) or other states in the European Economic Area (EEA), a Commonwealth citizen or a foreign national with indefinite leave to remain in the UK. Even if you have minor convictions or cautions you may still be able to join the police but there are certain offences and conditions that will make you ineligible; check with your local police force. You'll also have to be physically and mentally fit, with some roles requiring a higher level of fitness.
All police officer training follows the accreditation standards of the Professionalising Investigation Programme (PIP). This includes the mandatory core programme as well as a range of specialist, supervisory and leadership options. The programme is split into four different levels, according to the complexity of the investigation and the relevant skills required. As a probationer police constable at PIP 1 you'll learn how to handle volume crime.
All trainee investigators start on the Initial Crime Investigators Development Programme (ICIDP) at PIP 2. This consists of a six-week investigator training course and is followed by the completion of a professional development portfolio. The portfolio evidences how you meet the required competencies and usually takes around twelve months to complete. Once all your work has been verified, you'll be confirmed as a detective constable.
After this, you can progress to PIP 3 and the Senior Investigation Officer Training Programme (SIOPD), qualifying you to lead major investigations including homicide, manslaughter, kidnapping, infanticide or terrorism offences.
The final level is PIP 4 and covers strategic management and leadership of major investigations.
As part of your ongoing professional training you'll have the opportunity to attend specialist courses and study for relevant qualifications.
Working for the police means you have access to a clearly defined promotion structure. As a detective, you have the opportunity to be promoted up through the following ranks:
- detective constable
- detective sergeant
- detective inspector
- detective chief inspector
- detective superintendent
- detective chief superintendent
- assistant chief constable
- deputy chief constable
- chief constable.
Promotion in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is done through the Objective Structured Performance Related Examination (OSPRE). This consists of an exam, work-based assessment and a professional development portfolio. Officers in Scotland go a through a competency-based assessment process, the Promotion Standard Operation Procedure (SOP). Depending on the number of available posts you may have move back into uniform in order to be promoted, at least for a while.
From 2020 there will be a number of changes to the current promotion structure. It's anticipated that staff will take a qualification relevant to their role, for example a sergeant may study for a diploma in leadership or management and an inspector may work towards a postgraduate level qualification.
You have the option to move across into a non-detective post, in particular when you've reached the level of assistant chief constable. There are opportunities to transfer to different forces in the UK and overseas. It's also possible to move into other roles within the police, such as teaching new trainee investigators.