How to become a criminal investigator

Students meet police officers in the criminal justice program at Lynn.

It takes more than a strong sense of justice and an addiction to solving television mysteries to make it as a criminal investigator. But if you are strong in critical thinking, pay close attention to detail and listen attentively, you can make a huge difference to your community by solving crimes.

Criminal investigators work for law enforcement agencies on the local, state and federal levels. They collect, examine and analyze evidence relevant to felonies and misdemeanors. This evidence can be circumstantial, depositional, digital or financial, or it may come from other sources. 

This fast-paced position has a wide range of responsibilities and procedures that can make or break a case. You may walk crime scenes and study the evidence left at the scene. Or you may interview people related to the case, including witnesses and suspects. By examining evidence, you will try to piece together how the crime occurred and who committed it. You will be helping victims and their loved ones by helping them receive justice. You may also work with the district attorney’s office and testify in court. 

Becoming a criminal investigator takes a strong sense of duty, a tough skin and great attention to detail. 

Earn a bachelor’s degree

A bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or forensic investigations helps you stand apart from the competition and helps you establish a strong foundation in the aspects of sociology, science and law needed for success as a criminal investigator. Courses in crime scene investigation, criminology, forensics, psychology and victimology can advance career goals and improve your performance on the job. 

Graduate from the police academy

Most criminal investigators are police officers. While not all jurisdictions require that criminal investigators be police officers, graduating from a police academy will help increase your chances of receiving a job offer as a crime scene investigator. 

Other requirements to become a criminal investigator

Each state has its own requirements for becoming a criminal investigator. In all states, you need to pass a background check and a drug test. In some states, you also need a license to practice as a criminal investigator.

Train as a criminal investigator

The type of training you need depends on the type of agency you plan to work for. For instance, the FBI provides training for its criminal investigators. Other agencies offer on-the-job training as internships before promoting strong candidates to full-time criminal investigators. As an intern or junior investigator, you will work with senior investigators, learning from assigned mentors to collect and analyze evidence. As you gain experience, you will start working on cases independently, but will still need approval from your supervisor. With hard work and determination, you can be promoted to a criminal investigator position or accept a job in another agency or jurisdiction.

Continue your education 

Furthering your education with a master’s degree can help you advance your career and earn a higher salary. In some states, graduate school or online classes may be necessary to renew your criminal investigator license. 

Get started at Lynn

Lynn offers both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminal justice. In these programs, you will learn a holistic approach to crime scene investigation and criminal behavior and will participate in field-based exercises. 

Learn about related career paths including criminal justice careers and psychology careers.