How to Become a Criminal Investigator in Pennsylvania

Detectives work at all levels of government in Pennsylvania to bring justice to the perpetrators of serious crimes. From kidnappings and murders to burglaries and other property crimes, detectives become involved when an investigation is needed to find a suspect, secure evidence and gain witness testimony. This included many of the 44,503 violent crimes committed in Pennsylvania in 2012, including 685 cases of murder or manslaughter and 24,818 cases of aggravated assault.

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The State of Pennsylvania counters organized crime and crimes of a particularly violent nature through two agencies:

  • Pennsylvania State Police, Bureau of Criminal Investigations
  • Bureau of Criminal Investigations with the Pennsylvania Attorney General

These are two completely separate agencies, each with its own hiring requirements and areas of specialization. Working as a criminal investigator for either the State Police or Attorney General will require applicants to be able to meet specific education and experience requirements as detailed below.

Qualifying to Become a State-level Criminal Investigator in Pennsylvania

Candidates interested in learning how to become a detective in Pennsylvania at the state level can start by reviewing employment qualifications respective to the two agencies.

Having an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in any of the following subjects will lay a solid educational foundation for future career and promotional options, as well as foster essential detective skills:

  • Criminology
  • Criminal Justice
  • Law Enforcement
  • Police Science

A bachelor’s degree in these subjects will qualify candidates for detective positions with the Attorney General, while an associate’s degree will qualify applicants for entry-level State Trooper positions.

Pennsylvania Attorney General BCI Requirements

Candidates who would like to become a detective with the Attorney General BCI will need to meet one of the following requirements:

  • Bachelor’s degree in a field related to Criminal Justice or Law Enforcement


  • Four years of work experience in a field closely related to criminal investigations


  • An equivalent combination of relevant education and work experience

Importantly, BCI detectives must not have any unique and visible identifying marks such as scars or tattoos that would allow them to be easily identified in a crowd of people.

BCI detectives with the Attorney General are specifically referred to as Narcotics Agents or Special Agents.

Detective training for Attorney General BCI criminal investigators will include subjects such as:

  • Use of firearms
  • Use of scientific investigative equipment and crime detection devices
  • Crime Code of Pennsylvania
  • Commonwealth laws and statutes
  • Investigative and operation procedures

Pennsylvania State Police BCI Requirements

Becoming a criminal investigator with the Pennsylvania State Police BCI is an option for Pennsylvania State Troopers that have gained adequate law enforcement experience after years of working on patrol. Troopers who are part of the State Police must have met these requirements when initially hired as a State Trooper:

  • Be between 20-40 years of age at the time of application
  • Have a valid driver’s license
  • Be a US citizen
  • Have a good personal history free of significant criminal convictions

Education is also a key requirement for new cadet recruits who must have an associate’s degree or 60 semester credit-hours of college education in any subject. However, the following substitutions are allowable:

    • The education requirement is waived for candidates with:
      • Four years of law enforcement experience as a sworn officer
      • Four years of active-duty military service with an honorable discharge
  • Half the education requirement is waived for candidates with two years of either above-mentioned qualifications

Once troopers are deemed to have adequate experience and skills they may be considered for acceptance into the State Police BCI.

State Police BCI vs Attorney General BCI

Both the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigations and the Bureau of Criminal Investigations with the Pennsylvania Attorney General conduct independent investigations, as well as provide assistance to local law enforcement agencies.

The State Police BCI specializes in operations such as:

  • Traffic collision reconstruction and analysis
  • Liquor control and enforcement
  • Drug lab manufacture and distribution response
  • Explosives response team
  • Forensic science analysis and investigation

The Attorney General BCI specializes in operations such as:

  • Conducting narcotics investigations, especially relating to money laundering and asset forfeitures
  • Utilizing electronic and video equipment to conduct clandestine investigations
  • Computer forensics

Investigative Divisions with City and County Law Enforcement Agencies
in Pennsylvania

Meeting the hiring requirements for state-level criminal investigator jobs often qualifies criminal investigators for jobs with municipal and county agencies across Pennsylvania.

The following local investigative divisions are some of the most prominent of their kind in the state:

  • Philadelphia Police Department, Divisional Detective Units
  • Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, Investigations Branch
  • Allentown Police Department, Criminal Investigations Division
  • Erie Police Department, Criminal Investigation Division
  • Reading Police Department, Criminal Investigations Division
  • Scranton Police Department, Criminal Investigations Division
  • Bethlehem Police Department, Criminal Investigations Division
  • Allegheny County Sheriff’s Office, Investigations Division
  • Chester County Detectives with the District Attorney’s Office
  • Montgomery County Detective Bureau

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