How long does it take to become a detective?

There are two main paths to becoming a "real" detective: joining the police force and becoming a police detective or becoming a private investigator (PI). The time it takes for each path varies, but both require dedication and hard work.

Police Detective:

Timeline: This path typically takes at least seven and a half years, but can take up to fourteen years or even longer:

  • Education: Earning a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, criminology, psychology, or a related field can be beneficial, though not always mandatory, and may take four years.
  • Experience: Most departments require several years of experience as a patrol officer, which can take two to five years.
  • Training: After gaining experience, you'll likely need to pass a promotional exam and complete additional detective training, which can take several months to a year.


Private Investigator:

Timeline: This path can be shorter than becoming a police detective, taking around five to seven years, but varies depending on state licensing requirements and experience gained.

  • Education: Some states require a college degree related to investigation, but others don't. However, relevant experience is often considered more important. If you choose to pursue a degree, it could take two to four years.
  • Experience: Gain experience by working in security, paralegal, or other investigative roles. The amount of experience needed can vary by state, but generally takes several years.
  • Licensing: Most states require PIs to be licensed, which typically involves passing an exam and meeting experience requirements. This process can take a few months to a year depending on your state's specific requirements.


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