The road to becoming a criminal investigator is marked with periods of mandatory training. Criminal investigators should expect to complete academic, skills, and situational training throughout their careers, from becoming a law enforcement officer to being promoted to detective.
On-the-Job Training For New Detectives
Whether at the commencement of promotion to detective or at specific points throughout their career, detectives must engage in training related specifically to their line of work. Training may include a more general study in criminal investigations or it may involve specific criminal investigative work within a specialty unit, such as auto theft, homicide, or sexual assault, for example.
Detective training programs vary widely, in both their form and complexity. For example:
The North Carolina Justice Academy offers a 400-hour Criminal Investigations Certificate Program, which is designed specifically for police investigators. This program features a number of areas of study, including investigative techniques, technological advances, the practical application of detectives’ best practices, and legal changes.
The New York City Police Academy also offers the Criminal Investigation Course, which is designed for investigators in all uniformed ranks who want to reach the next level in their career with the New York City Police Department. The course is a 15-day (105 hour) intense program that provides investigators with the skills needed to access necessary resources, develop a case, and apply their investigative skills to result in a conviction.
The California POST’s Robert Presley Institute of Criminal Investigation (ICI) Core Program is designed to enhance the effectiveness of the individual criminal investigator through successful criminal investigations. Some of the topics addressed in this program include:
- Crime scene management
- Interviewing and interrogation skills
- Search and seizure issues
- Search warrant preparation
- Surveillance techniques
- Case reporting
- Informant management
- Media relations
- Case reporting
- Courtroom testimony
Who Sets the Standards?
Training standards for most states are typically set through a Peace Officer Standard and Training (POST) Board or a Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board.
The Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission/Board—typically referred to as POST—is a specialty commission established by State Legislatures to set minimum selection and training standards for law enforcement agencies within a State. In some states, POST requirements are mandatory; in others, they are voluntary.
For example, the California POST, although a voluntary program, is incentive-based, rewarding State agencies that comply with a number of Commission services and benefits, such as leadership training programs, management counseling services, and job-related assessment tools, just to name a few.
As another example, the Colorado POST documents and manages the training and certification of all active peace officers throughout all Colorado law enforcement agencies, while also providing a number of training programs on emerging issues.
Some law enforcement agencies set standards above minimum state standards. The Chicago Police Department, for example, requires recruits to receive more than 1,000 hours of basic recruit training, which exceeds the Illinois State mandate, implemented by the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board, by more than 500 hours. Recruits also receive additional training beyond the State-mandated material.
Police Academy Training: What to Expect
One of the most significant periods of training occurs upon securing an entry-level job in law enforcement. Law enforcement officers, regardless of whether they work for a state or local police department/sheriff’s department, all must complete academy training. Although academy training differs from one agency to the next, new recruits can expect to participate in physical conditioning, complete academic courses, and engage in situational training exercises.
Police academy training may conclude with a final academic examination, or recruits may need to take examinations throughout the course of the program. Coursework also varies from one academy to the next, although the scope is usually quite similar. For example, new recruits for Florida State trooper jobs, in their six-month academy program, must complete 770 hours of Florida-mandated courses, such as:
- Crime scene investigation
- Criminal investigations
- DUI/traffic stops
- Traffic crash investigation
- Law enforcement vehicle operations
- Patrol procedures
- Report writing
- Defensive tactics
Human relations coursework is also typical among police academies, with study in areas such as:
- Cultural sensitivity training
- Sexual harassment
- Stress management
- Community relations
- Hate crimes
- Domestic violence
- Disability awareness
Study in law-related topics often includes:
- Search and seizure
- Crimes against persons and property
- General crime statutes
- State/city-specific laws and statutes
Many times, training topics are specific to the region or department. For example, the Los Angeles Police Department Police Academy trains all new recruits in Spanish, given the large, Spanish-speaking population of this city.
All police academies demand specific requirements of recruits who attend them, although the hiring department usually vets recruits before training commences. For example, candidates for police officer jobs often qualify for police academy training by successfully passing a written examination and a physical abilities test, both of which are designed to assess a candidate’s ability to successfully complete academy training.
Situational training during police academy training often involves hands-on exercises in areas such as:
- Defensive driving techniques
- Weapons safety
- Use of department weapons (batons, pepper spray, etc.)
- Subduing a suspect
Physical training, which is focused on the physical skills needed for police work, remains an integral part of any academy training program. Most programs conclude with a final, physical fitness exam that must be passed to successfully complete academy training. As such, most police departments strongly encourage recruits to train before academy training begins.
Cadets in police academy training are expected to:
- Maintain proper discipline
- Meet attendance requirements
- Maintain their personal appearance
- Maintain issued equipment
- Maintain their rooms and personal belongings
- Agree to unannounced drug screenings
- Participate in academy life, which includes cleaning and maintenance posts and responsibilities
- Follow all academy rules and regulations
Many academies, such as the Pennsylvania State Police Academy, are run like paramilitary organizations, thereby requiring cadets to practices military courtesy and discipline throughout Academy training.
Training for police officers or sheriff’s deputies working toward detective careers does not end with academy training. In fact, new recruits must attend on-the-job training upon leaving the academy. This period of time is crucial for allowing new recruits to apply what they learned in the academy to real-world situations, under the guidance of a training supervisor.
For example, new police officer recruits for the Greensboro, North Carolina Police Department must receive an additional 14 weeks of training through a field assignment after completing 27-weeks of academy training.
Likewise, new recruits in the Minneapolis Police Academy, upon completion of the 16-week police academy, must complete a five-month field training program.