With very little in the way of regular hours, a lot of late nights, and plenty of high-stress situations that are sure to test your resolve, a career in criminal investigations is not for everyone. But for those police officers looking to test their mettle, rise through the ranks, and take their careers in law enforcement to the next level, it’s an exciting, rewarding, and challenging endeavor that comes with outstanding opportunities and salaries to match.
The criminal investigations divisions are manned by some of the most seasoned and capable law enforcement professionals you’ll ever meet. With significant police training and experience, formal education, and specialized skills in areas like forensic science and criminology, these investigative experts work for law enforcement agencies at the local, state, and federal level and lend their hard-earned skills and knowledge to general criminal investigations units, as well as specialized units focused on narcotics, gangs, human trafficking, and more.
There’s only one route to a career as a detective and that’s by putting in your time to stack up years of experience doing solid police work. But a post-secondary degree should also be on your radar. Many police agencies require some sort of college degree to qualify for a detective position, but even among those that don’t, it’s a great way to up your chances of making detective while boosting your earning potential in the process. A post-secondary degree in an area like criminal justice, criminology, psychology, or public safety is always a valuable addition to your resume and shouldn’t be overlooked if you want to land a position with a leading agency and earn top dollar.
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Federal, State and Local: Criminal Investigator Salaries According to Agency
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), detectives and criminal investigators earned a median salary of $83,170 as of May 2019. The top earners in the field – likely those working for detective bureaus/criminal investigations divisions of federal, state, or large metro police agencies and those with substantial experience – earned $139,180 or more during this time.
Federal investigators make up the largest number of investigators (42,860) in the country, and they’re also the highest earners, by far, earning an average annual salary of $107,150, according to the BLS. Some of the federal agencies that employ criminal investigators include:
U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement
U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (an investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security) has a staff of criminal investigators (called special agents) who conduct criminal and civil investigations involving national security threats, drug smuggling, human trafficking, illegal arms export, and more.
To qualify as a special agent with HSI, you must be under 37 years old, you must have criminal investigation or law enforcement experience, a bachelor’s degree, or a combination of the two. You must also complete 22 weeks of paid enforcement training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Brunswick, GA.
Special agents are paid using the federal General Schedule (GS), with most agents starting at the GS-5 level. The General Schedule (GS) consists of 15 pay grades with 10 pay steps within each grade. In general, federal agencies adhere to the following range:
- GS-5 to GS-7: Most entry-level positions
- GS-8 to GS-12: Mid-level positions
- GS-13 to GS-15: Top-level supervisory positions
As of 2020, the GS pay scale included the following salary ranges:
- GS-5: $30,113 – $39,149
- GS-6: $33,567 – $43,638
- GS-7: $37,301 – $48,488
- GS-8: $41,310 – $53,703
- GS-9: $45,627 – $59,316
- GS-10: $50,246 – $65,321
- GS-11: $55,204 – $71,764
- GS-12: $66,167 – $86,021
- GS-13: $78,681 – $102,288
- GS-14: $92,977 – $120,868
- GS-15: $109,366 – $142,810
But these base salaries only tell part of the story, as federal special agents enjoy salaries that often far exceed their base pay, thanks to overtime pay, administrative uncontrollable overtime (AUO) pay, and law enforcement availability (LEAP) pay. Other compensation perks include locality pay (which includes higher salary rates for agents working in areas with higher costs of living) and premium pay when working Sundays, holidays, and night shifts.
U.S. Armed Forces
- U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigation Command – CID employs criminal investigators (called CID special agents). Special agents here may serve as active duty soldiers, reserves soldiers, National guard soldiers, or civilian special agents.
College graduates (must have a bachelor’s degree or higher in criminal justice, forensic science, computer science, computer forensics, digital forensics, legal studies, accounting, finance, psychology, or biology) may be accepted into the CID Direct Accessions Program, which requires the completion of U.S. Army Basic Combat Training, 31B Military Police One Station Unit Training, and the CID Special Agent Course.
- U.S. Air Force, Office of Special Investigations – OSI Agents may serve as active duty soldiers, reserves soldiers, or civilian special agents.
SI requires new entry-level civilians to have a bachelor’s degree with a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.95 or qualifying specialized experience (includes experience includes working as a uniformed law enforcement officer, where the principal duties consist of investigations and arrests involving traffic violations, minor felonies, misdemeanors and comparable offenses; or duties involving guarding and protecting property; preventing crimes, and/or legal research without the application of investigative techniques). They must also complete the Criminal Investigator Training Program at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, GA.
- U.S. Navy, Naval Criminal Investigative Service – NCIS is the civilian federal law enforcement agency responsible for investigating felony crime, preventing terrorism, and protecting secrets for the Navy and Marine Corps. NCIS employs about 1,000 civilian special agents. The hiring process for NCIS is very competitive, and most applicants have a combination of education (bachelor’s degree or higher) and prior law enforcement training.
Special agent with the U.S. armed forces are sworn law enforcement officers and are therefore paid using the Law Enforcement Officer (LEO) pay scale.
The LEO pay scale includes pay grades GL-3 to GL-10, with ten pay steps within each pay grade, although most entry-level special agent jobs start at the GL-7 level:
- GL-7: $42,273 – $53,460
- GL-8: $44,064 – $56,457
- GL-9: $47,148 – $60,837
- GL-10: $51,921 – $66,996
Special agents above the GL-10 pay level are paid using the General Schedule:
- GS-11: $55,204 – $71,764
- GS-12: $66,167 – $86,021
- GS-13: $78,681 – $102,288
- GS-14: $92,977 – $120,868
- GS-15: $109,366 – $142,810
Again, it’s important to remember that base salaries for special agents represent just a portion of their overall pay, as overtime pay, premium pay, LEAP pay, and locality pay can and do add significantly to their pay.
According to the BLS, criminal investigators with state agencies earned a mean, annual salary of $68,950 as of May 2019. The top-paying states for criminal investigators and detectives during this time largely fell in line with states with higher costs of living and included:
- Alaska: $113,420
- Hawaii: $109,320
- California: $107,760
- New Jersey: $103,460
- Massachusetts: $102,350
Expect to have a background in law enforcement and a bachelor’s degree or higher if you want to qualify for a detective position with a state police agency or state attorney general office. While you may qualify for certain investigator positions without a degree, most agencies prefer candidates with a combination of both experience and education.
For example, you may qualify for a special agent position with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement with either a bachelor’s degree in criminology/criminal justice, accounting, finance, computer science or a related fields OR four years of sworn law enforcement officer experience. However, preference is given to candidates with a bachelor’s or advanced degree, at least two years of sworn criminal investigator experience, specialized skills (e.g., polygraph certification, pilot license/certification, counter terrorism/intelligence, cybersecurity, training, etc.), or a fluency in a foreign language. Salaries for special agents here start at $45,819, or $50,819 if you work in the following counties: Monroe, Dade, Broward, or Palm Beach.
In many states, criminal investigator jobs easily reach the six figures. For example, investigator jobs with the New York State Police’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation start at $107,301. To qualify for a position as an investigator, you must have either four years of service as a police officer or two years of service if you have a bachelor’s degree.
While usually not as large as state agencies, local agencies can and do offer salaries that rival those of their state agency colleagues – particularly in large metro areas. According to the BLS, detectives and criminal investigators with local law enforcement agencies earned a mean, annual salary of $74,370 as of May 2019.
According to the BLS, the top-paying metro areas for criminal investigators during this time included:
- Oxnard (includes Thousand Oaks, Ventura), CA: $125,850
- Anchorage, AK: $122,370
- Los Angeles (includes Long Beach, Anaheim), CA: $122,130
- San Francisco (includes Oakland, Hayward), CA: $122,100
- Washington D.C. (includes Arlington, Alexandria, VA): $121,070
- Brunswick, GA: $118,890
- Urban Honolulu, HI: $113,690
Don’t expect local agencies to have less stringent requirements when it comes to criminal investigator jobs. For example, to qualify for a police special investigator job with the Los Angeles Police Department, which comes with a salary range of $93,124 – $136,200, you’ll need one of the following:
- A bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university AND five years of full-time experience investigating or researching and evaluating matters related to police or government oversight, government law, law enforcement, or public safety/criminal justice policy; OR
- A graduate degree in criminal justice, public policy, public administration, or a closely related field AND two years of full-time experience investigating or researching matters related to police or government oversight, government law, law enforcement, or public safety/criminal justice policy; OR
- Graduation from an American Bar Association accredited law school AND one year of full-time experience investigating or researching matters related to police or government oversight, government law, law enforcement, or public safety/criminal justice policy
How Education and Experience Influence Salaries for Criminal Investigators
Beyond minimum education and experience requirements, advanced levels of education and experience translate into higher salaries in nearly every setting.
For example, while a college degree isn’t a requirement to become a detective with the New Orleans Police Department, if you have a college degree on your resume, you’ll earn a bigger paycheck. With no post-secondary education and five years of law enforcement service, a detective here will earn $81,487. But an associate’s degree will increase your salary by $1,000 annually, a bachelor’s will increase your salary by $2,000 annually, and a graduate degree will increase your annual salary by $3,000.
Similarly, experience plays a big part in your overall salary if you work as a detective for the Chicago Police Department. With 12 months of service here, you’ll earn $70,980. After 2½ years, you’ll earn $82,614, and after 4½ years, you’ll earn $91,080.
Salaries for Detectives and Criminal Investigators, by State
What are criminal investigators earning in your state? The following list highlights the salaries for detectives and criminal investigators (at the 50th and 90th percentiles):
- Alabama: $58,030 – $123,610 (approximately 1,170 criminal investigators)
- Alaska: $122,120 – $153,320 (approximately 100 criminal investigators)
- Arizona: $84,870 – $119,920 (approximately 5,690 criminal investigators)
- Arkansas: $45,590 – $123,720 (approximately 460 criminal investigators)
- California: $101,380 – $152,280 (approximately 11,810 criminal investigators)
- Colorado: $88,120 – $138,390 (approximately 1,830 criminal investigators)
- Connecticut: $87,450 – $133,330 (approximately 980 criminal investigators)
- Delaware: $80,300 – $145,260
- Florida: $64,130 – $134,520 (approximately 6,890 criminal investigators)
- Georgia: $55,750 – $130,880 (approximately 3,740 criminal investigators)
- Hawaii: $110,010 – $138,080 (approximately 450 criminal investigators)
- Idaho: $70,910 – $123,600 (approximately 380 criminal investigators)
- Illinois: $82,910 – $140,590 (approximately 3,010 criminal investigators)
- Indiana: $60,590 – $128,200 (approximately 810 criminal investigators)
- Iowa: $66,680 – $123,600 (approximately 410 criminal investigators)
- Kansas: $56,910 – $103,220 (approximately 910 criminal investigators)
- Kentucky: $60,330 – $134,530 (approximately 540 criminal investigators)
- Louisiana: $51,920 – $128,020 (approximately 1,680 criminal investigators)
- Maine: $69,150 – $102,030 (approximately 550 criminal investigators)
- Maryland: $101,920 – $149,510 (approximately 940 criminal investigators)
- Massachusetts: $95,840 – $156,130 (approximately 1,390 criminal investigators)
- Michigan: $83,530 – $139,240 (approximately 2,090 criminal investigators)
- Minnesota: $77,080 – $117,700 (approximately 1,390 criminal investigators)
- Mississippi: $53,460 – $123,600 (approximately 840 criminal investigators)
- Missouri: $69,710 – $128,060 (approximately 1,820 criminal investigators)
- Montana: $83,170 – $123,590 (approximately 450 criminal investigators)
- Nebraska: $69,470 – $127,230 (approximately 370 criminal investigators)
- Nevada: $81,260 – $130,880 (approximately 510 criminal investigators)
- New Hampshire: $71,260 – $144,610 (approximately 370 criminal investigators)
- New Jersey: $105,060 – $149,900 (approximately 3,440 criminal investigators)
- New Mexico: $83,170 – $97,420 (approximately 1,720 criminal investigators)
- New York: $85,600 – $149,890 (approximately 9,010 criminal investigators)
- North Carolina: $51,010 – $116,670 (approximately 2,820 criminal investigators)
- North Dakota: $78,570 – $123,610 (approximately 340 criminal investigators)
- Ohio: $72,250 – $128,670 (approximately 1,940 criminal investigators)
- Oklahoma: $58,120 – $119,970 (approximately 880 criminal investigators)
- Oregon: $94,320 – $138,140 (approximately 580 criminal investigators)
- Pennsylvania: $80,100 – $137,400 (approximately 2,820 criminal investigators)
- Rhode Island: $80,100 – $136,590 (approximately 320 criminal investigators)
- South Carolina: $48,530 – $119,960 (approximately 1,350 criminal investigators)
- South Dakota: $60,960 – $123,600 (approximately 220 criminal investigators)
- Tennessee: $58,850 – $130,800 (approximately 1,530 criminal investigators)
- Texas: $82,120 – $127,240 (approximately 16,810 criminal investigators)
- Utah: $74,080 – $130,890 (approximately 330 criminal investigators)
- Vermont: $83,180 – $119,970 (approximately 200 criminal investigators)
- Virginia: $93,910 – $157,570 (approximately 3,160 criminal investigators)
- Washington: $92,680 – $141,420 (approximately 1,740 criminal investigators)
- West Virginia: $96,980 – $134,530 (approximately 180 criminal investigators)
- Wisconsin: $79,220 – $103,940 (approximately 1,360 criminal investigators)
- Wyoming: $70,550 – $130,880 (approximately 150 criminal investigators)
Salary and employment data compiled by the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics in May of 2019. Figures represent accumulated data for all employment sectors in which detectives and criminal investigators work. BLS salary data represents average and median earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries.
All salary and employment data accessed September 2020.