What is a detective?

A detective is an accredited police officer who works as a Serious and Complex Crime Investigator or a Specialist Investigator. As a detective, you’ll work on varied investigations including volume and priority investigations such as theft and burglaries, domestic abuse and hate crime incidents, knife crime and missing persons. 

Detectives are the most critical support for victims of crime. 

In the UK there are two main types of detectives:

  • Police detectives — work in law enforcement and are specialist accredited police officers who investigate and solve crimes.
  • Private detectives — need a licence to gather personal, legal and financial information for a client. They have to conduct surveillance, track missing people and interview people of interest. 

What does a detective do?

Detectives can work across several specialist departments, commonly known to be part of the criminal investigations department (CID) which handles suspicious deaths, robbery, serious assaults, domestic abuse and burglary. Duties can vary depending on the specialist department you work in. A detective needs to gather and assess information on the investigation, develop strategies and work closely with other staff to make a decision. 

Typical responsibilities include:

  • Identify a plan for your investigative actions by taking into account available resources and priorities. 
  • Acting as the point of contact for victims of crime to seek justice for them.
  • Arrest suspects and issue special warnings.
  • Complete risk assessments and support victims during investigations.
  • Collect intelligence for recording and retaining evidence from a range of sources including crime reports, victims, witnesses and suspects.
  • Recording and retaining evidence in a way that makes it admissible in court to help bring offenders to justice.
  • Prepare reports on the outcome of investigations to ensure there’s an accurate audit trail.
  • Preparing case files, writing reports, and completing other required paperwork.

What skills are required to become a detective?

To be a good detective you’ll need:

  • Excellent communication and listening skills.
  • Be empathetic and in tune with people’s reactions.
  • Ability to keep calm in stressful situations.
  • Good decision-making skills.
  • Ability to analyse and evaluate evidence.
  • High ethical standards.
  • Leadership skills.
  • Good level of physical fitness and eyesight.
  • Ability to use IT equipment.

What qualifications does a barrister require?

To become a detective, you’ll need GCSEs in maths and English as a basic requirement. There are then three routes you can take:

  1. Become a police officer — you don’t need to be a police officer before you become a detective but if you’re already a police officer, you can complete a training course to become a Trainee Detective Constable (TDC) and then pass the National Investigators Exam (NIE) to qualify.
  2. Have an undergraduate degree and apply for the national detective programme through the Police Now National Detective Programme. You’ll need at least a 2:1 undergraduate degree to be eligible for this. This is a 2-year programme and includes a 12-week detective academy. 
  3. An alternative route is to take part in the Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship – You’ll need 2 A-Levels or be able to demonstrate relevant experience equivalent to a Level 3 qualification.

You must also be at least 18 years old.

Steps to becoming a detective:

Step 1: Undergraduate degree:

To be eligible for the Detective graduate scheme you must first have successfully completed a UK undergraduate degree in any subject. You must obtain at least a 2:2 to be eligible for the next stage.

Due to the nature of the work, it can be beneficial to have experience before joining the police. Individuals can apply to become a Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) before applying for police officer training to see if a career in the police is right for them. 

Step 2: Pass Health and background checks:

To apply to be a detective you must also meet the following requirements:

  • Pass health and fitness tests
  • Pass security and background tests

Step 3: Complete the Detective Graduate scheme:

Once you’ve obtained your undergraduate degree, you can then apply for the National Detective Programme. This is a two-year course and includes a twelve-week Detective Academy. The graduate scheme allows you to obtain. detective skills for the role, training through the Police Now Detective Programme. This is a residential training course offering a mix of field and classroom learning. 

Step 4: Complete the National Investigators Exam:

You must also pass the National Investigators Exam (NIE) in the first six months. The purpose of the NIE is to identify candidates who have a sufficient level of knowledge, understanding and application to perform effectively as a trainee investigator. You’ll then achieve a full Professionalising Investigation Programme Stage 2 (PIP2) accreditation once you have successfully completed the exam and will achieve a graduate diploma in Professional Policing Practice and can start work as a detective. 

Step 5: Apply for jobs:

Once you’ve gained the necessary qualifications, you can start work as a detective. The main employers of detectives include the UK police forces. The British transport police also employ detectives. To apply you must be a British Citizen. 

Detectives working for the police force have the opportunity to work up the ranks, such as: 

  • Detective Constable
  • Detective Sergeant
  • Detective Inspector
  • Detective Chief Inspector

How much do Detectives earn in the UK?

The starting salary for a detective in the UK is around £24,780. As you gain experience and are promoted through the ranks you can expect to earn more:

  • Sergeant — between £43,000 and £46,000
  • Inspector — between £52,000 and 57,000
  • Chief Inspector — between £58,000 and £60,000
  • Chief Superintendent — between £86,000 and £91,000

Related occupations

Occupations related to the role of a barrister include:

  1. Solicitor
  2. Paralegal
  3. Licensed conveyancer
  4. Barrister’s clerk
  5. Judge
  6. Forensic scientist
  7. Coroner
  8. Registrar


1. https://www.independent.co.uk/student/career-planning/getting-job/i-want-your-job-veterinary-nurse-758945.html 

2. https://www.thelawyerportal.com/free-guides/how-to-become-a-barrister/pros-and-cons-of-becoming-a-barrister/