What is a Criminal Investigator?

crime scene

A criminal investigator is a law enforcement professional who investigates crimes, accused criminals, and crime scenes. They may work in groups or alone to solve a particular crime.

Criminal investigators receive professional training and a license to do their work. Some criminal investigators work for the government, usually with a police department as a detective. Others work in a private organization and can be hired by private individuals to uncover the facts about a criminal case.

What Does a Criminal Investigator Do?

Criminal investigators may be hired to verify backgrounds and claims to find missing people and investigate computer or other crimes. They work on behalf of people who have committed crimes and those who have been victims of crimes.

When working with an accused criminal, the investigator may collect evidence to defend their client. People who have been victimized may hire a criminal investigator to find enough evidence to bring criminal charges against someone.

To solve criminal cases and uncover facts, a criminal investigator collects as much information as possible. They use this information to piece together evidence for what might have happened during a crime.

Criminal investigators actively spend their days doing the following, depending on the needs of the case:

  • Interviewing the defendant, witnesses, and suspects to gather statements
  • Reviewing photos, videos, audio, or documents related to the case
  • Examining similar criminal cases and relevant laws
  • Gather financial information
  • Collecting and analyzing forensic evidence
  • Analyzing each piece of evidence to determine what might have actually happened

Besides searching for and analyzing evidence, a criminal investigator will also meet with current and potential clients, collaborate with co-workers, and, if they work for a private agency, look for new clients through marketing. A criminal investigator may spend time in court as a witness for their client.

How Much Do Criminal Investigators Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, private criminal investigators earned an average annual salary of $50,700 in 2017. Criminal investigators employed by the government or educational organizations made an average annual salary of $83,320 in 2017.

How to Become a Criminal Investigator

The requirements for working as a criminal investigator are different in every state. In general, they need to have a high school diploma and several years of work experience. Most states require private criminal investigators to be licensed.

Education and Work Experience

Many people who become criminal investigators have a two or four-year college degree in a field related to criminal justice or forensic science. This type of degree will help job applicants stand out and will provide a good background in the field.

Work experience can also be great preparation for becoming an investigator. Criminal investigators need to know how to gather information, speak to people professionally, and analyze evidence to craft a report.

Any job that includes these tasks is good preparation. For example, journalism, insurance fraud investigation, remote surveillance, and crime scene reconstruction are great work experiences that translate well to working as a criminal investigator.

Training and Licensing

Most criminal investigators receive their training on the job. They may work as an apprentice to a more experienced investigator. This training may last for several months or more, depending on the education and prior work experience of the new criminal investigator.

In the vast majority of states, criminal investigators need to get a private investigator’s license. The requirements and applications vary by state; check with your state for how to obtain an investigator’s license and how often you need to reapply.


  • https://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/private-detectives-and-investigators.htm
  • https://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/private-detectives-and-investigators.htm#tab-4
  • https://www.bls.gov/oes/2017/may/oes333021.htm#ind

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