A career as a detective can be a lucrative one, with many senior criminal investigators in larger police departments and sheriff’s offices earning well into the six figures. May 2013 statistics published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) show that the median annual salary for criminal investigators/detectives is $76,730, with the top 10 percent earning more than $125,320.
But similar to other law enforcement positions, salaries for detectives and other criminal investigators are largely dependent upon a number of factors.
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How the Size of the Criminal Investigative Division Impacts Detective Salaries
Detectives working in large, metropolitan areas or for large state bureaus of investigation/departments of public safety are, of course, more often afforded higher salaries, due to the caseload they are required to take on. Often times the size of the criminal investigative division is equivalent to the size of the metropolitan area/city/county and its population.
For example, a recent job posting (May 2014) for a Special Investigator with the Los Angeles Police Department showed a monthly salary range of between $44,880 and $88,092 per year. Another job posting for a police sergeant/detective with the Miami Police Department revealed an annual salary of $86,923 and $107,991.
Due to their size and scope, state agencies are also likely to pay criminal investigators a higher salary than police/sheriff’s departments at the local level. For example, a criminal investigator with the Arizona Bureau of Investigation, according to a recent job post, will earn a salary of between $5,593 and $8,115 per month, or $67,116 and $97,380 per year.
A number of federal agencies also frequently employ criminal investigators, including Immigration Enforcement Agents, Homeland Security Investigations Special Agents, and the Armed Forces. For example, a recent job posting for a criminal investigator with the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, in Quantico, Virginia, revealed an annual salary range of between $81,832 and $106,639.
BLS statistics also reported that, as of May 2013, detectives in the federal executive branch received the highest pay of all industries, with an annual mean wage of $103,180.
Detective Salaries by Geographic Location
Geographic location can also influence a detective’s salary. Again, many times, higher-paying geographic locations coincide with more populous regions and the cost of living, as is evident by recent statistics by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which revealed the top salaries (annual mean salaries) for detectives, by state:
- District of Columbia: $116,210
- Alaska: $109,930
- New Jersey: $100,140
- Delaware: 98,710
- California: $97,270
And by metropolitan area:
- San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City, California: $119,530
- Nassau-Suffolk, New York: $118,710
- Brunswick, Georgia: $115,680
- Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, D.C.-VA-MD-WV: $113,710
- Anchorage, Alaska: $110,560
The following table shows information provided by the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics and reflects detective salaries by state as of May 2013.
Increasing Salary and Promotional Opportunities with a College Degree
Although most detective jobs are attained by completing a number of years as a patrol officer and being promoted from within, many police departments are also recognizing the value of a post-secondary education. In fact, a number of city police departments and county sheriff’s departments offer education incentives, which allow police officers and criminal investigators to earn a percentage above base pay, depending on the type of degree they carry.
For example, the Mobile, Alabama Police Department, although it does not require its police recruits to possess a formal degree from an accredited college or university, it does reward candidates with educational incentive pay, which is determined by the degree they carry (associate degree, bachelor degree, or master degree).
It is also important to point out that many police agencies and departments require the completion of an associate or bachelor’s degree to qualify for detective/criminal investigator positions.
The Impact of Experience on a Detective’s Expected Earnings
To earn top pay as a criminal investigator, the consensus is almost always the same: it’s all about experience. Senior criminal investigators, team/unit leaders, or bureau of department chiefs are almost always those individuals with a long history of experience with the police department or agency in which they work.
For example, the Columbus, Ohio Police Department reveals the following monthly salaries for its police force:
- Police sergeant/investigator: $7,108 (3 years of experience as a police officer)
- Police lieutenant: $8,389 (1 year of experience as a police sergeant)
- Police commander: $9,899 (1 year of experience as a police lieutenant and a bachelor’s degree)
- Police deputy chief: $9,165 to $13,745 (1 year of experience as a police commander and a bachelor’s degree)
- Police chief: $10,413 to $15,620 (1 year of experience as a police deputy chief or 5 years of experience as a police commander or police deputy chief)