Homicide detectives are often the most seasoned and expert detectives within a criminal investigations division. Although the general term “homicide” is used when describing this police position, homicide detectives actually investigate deaths that occur due to any number of circumstances, such as:
- Unattended deaths
- Officer-involved shootings resulting in death or serious injury
- Assaults against police officers wherein death results
- In-custody deaths
- Arsons as a manner of death
- Incidents involving a death or serious injury of a department employee
- Suicide/attempted suicide
Cold case homicides—unsolved homicides that have no significant leads—may also be solved by a special team of homicide detectives that work out of a cold case homicide unit.
Homicide Detective Job Duties
A homicide detective investigates deaths that occur within a mysterious or criminal context. Therefore, the goal of a homicide detective is to remove all uncertainty regarding the circumstances surrounding a death. This may mean absolving or charging an individual or individuals with homicide, manslaughter or a legal variation. Their job duties involve interviewing witnesses and victims, collecting evidence, interrogating suspects, and analyzing related information.
Other typical duties required of homicide detectives include:
- Collaborating with other law enforcement agencies and officials, as well as the District Attorney’s Office
- Serving felony warrants and arresting suspects
- Preparing and executing search warrants
- Interviewing witnesses and victims and taking their statements
- Attending autopsies
- Interrogating suspects
- Preparing court papers, including subpoenas and summons
- Serving as a courtroom expert
- Investigating the scene of a crime
- Collecting evidence from the scene of the crime
- Perform background research of suspects, including their criminal past
- Locating relevant information and investigating suspicious activity
- Keeping detailed records and writing reports associated with the criminal investigation
- Working alongside members of the CSI Unit, including forensic scientists, regarding crime scene and DNA evidence
In larger departments, the work of homicide detectives is further organized into those who work crime scenes and those who work homicide investigation. Coordination and collaboration with city/state/county officials is also often an important part of being a homicide detective, particularly when seeking help with investigative techniques and resource allocation. A homicide unit may even assign one detective the job of acting as a liaison with other law enforcement agencies and governmental entities.
The Personality Profile of a Homicide Detective
Being a homicide detective is not for the faint of heart. This physically, mentally, and often emotionally arduous profession can be highly gratifying and exciting, yet it can also be very stressful and trying.
Homicide detectives may need to talk to grieving loved ones; they may need to examine and investigate gruesome scenes; and they may need to work in less-than-ideal circumstances or situations. The days are long and the nights are often longer, and as any homicide detective will tell you, mental strength is a prerequisite for the job.
Homicide investigators are required to be excellent communicators and have advanced interpersonal skills. On any given day, they may be required to delicately talk to an individual who just lost a family member to murder or suicide, or they may be called to interrogate an uncooperative murder suspect.
Homicide detectives must also have strong morals and convictions and be highly adept at gathering information and drawing conclusions based on facts and observations.
How to Become a Homicide Detective: Education and Training Requirements
A homicide detective is a valuable member of a police force that has significant experience in criminal investigations, as well as a college degree in an area related to the profession. Typical areas of study for homicide investigators include:
- Criminal justice
- Justice administration
- Criminal administration
- Police science
In addition, given the often highly scientific nature of homicide detective jobs, it is now quite common for individuals interested in homicide investigations to pursue degrees in such areas as:
- Forensic science
- Forensic chemistry
- Crime scene investigations
And because homicide investigators must often get into the minds of the criminals they pursue and understand their motivations and rationale, an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in psychology, criminology, and sociology may prove to be invaluable.
The first step to becoming a homicide detective always involves securing a job as a police officer or sheriff’s deputy and gaining experience in a patrol capacity for a number of years.
The first years working as a criminal investigator are usually spent working in other areas of investigation, such as auto theft, robbery, and larceny. Given the highly complex and critical nature of homicide investigations, homicide detectives are usually among the most skilled and qualified members of a police department’s investigations division.