Police Detective: 5 Things You Need To Know

A big case

It’s not like TV.

Other than getting laid a lot. That part is true (not really).

You should already know this but serious crimes don’t get solved in under an hour. And not every case has a perfect DNA match.

Not even close.

Being a detective is one of the hardest, most frustrating jobs you will ever do or experience in law enforcement. I know that some cops have no interest in ever becoming a detective.

But for those who prefer the deep end of the pool, no part of the job brings as much satisfaction or career fulfillment than wearing the gold shield.


Not long ago I told a Captain, during an assessment board for detective , that working cases, especially the big ones, was intoxicating.

She reminds me daily of that analogy.

From solving your first burglary to getting a murder confession, it brings the kind of buzz and high that career uniform officers will never get or understand.

Road officers and deputy’s are more agreeable to the roller coaster ride of answering high priority calls and the “runnin and gunnin” mentality that only they can know.

I have experienced both.

 “Body Worn Camera: The Pictures That Proved a Thousand Lies”

So far I have written exclusively to the trials and tribulations, both through satire and other more serious articles, of the “road officer” experience.

Admittedly, I have mistakenly left out a huge segment of our police culture and history, the Detective.

Some of the cases and investigations I have worked over the years really do defy belief. And I am just one detective out of tens of thousands in our country alone who could declare the same.

But before we partake in the Salty Sarge happy good times story telling time back when I was a detective, first things first.

Just like not everyone is suited for a career in law enforcement, not all cops are suited to be detectives.

I have come up with a few things that each cop should consider before making the dive into that deep water. And trust me, if you’re not a strong swimmer, you will most certainly drown.


The list:

1. Time management – I can’t express enough how important being a good manager of your time is to the success of your investigations.

This will shock some of you but you don’t get the luxury of only working one case at a time. In reality, especially for property crimes detectives, you may have 30 to 40 separate investigations working at the same time! 

Now that you have picked yourself off the floor, there’s more.

What you think is the most important case you are presently working, well, you’re wrong. This leads to the next consideration.

2. Flexibility – And I’m not talking hot yoga. The kind of flexibility I am referring to is all-encompassing. As a detective, you need to have the ability to pivot and change on a dime.

From your work hours to your case assignment, the life of an investigator is ruled by the crime of the day or political emergency that must be put down.

A lot of police agencies also require their detectives to be on call for certain cases or for certain time periods.

If you are one of those people who require 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night, you may want to put in for SRO or the traffic unit instead.

 “The 10 Truths All Cops Know”

3. The hours – They suck. There really is no easier way to say it. Now some police departments only require their detectives to work day shift hours with an occasional call back rotation, those are rare.

Most detective units in medium to larger agencies require their detectives rotate from days to nights on a recurring basis which also includes a call back rotation.

Not sounding so sexy is it?

It gets better.

If you find yourself working violent crimes, you can expect to work the case until an arrest or all leads have been exhausted (only cops write like that last sentence).

This could require you to work longer than 24 hours straight at times with no or little sleep. If it’s a murder, it could be even longer.

4.  Surveillance –  When people hear the term “surveillance” they immediately think of something mysterious and alluring if not outright sexy.

I am here to tell you it is none of these things.

In reality, if you like sitting in the same spot for hours, even months, staring at a house or business, bored out of your mind, then you will love it.

Nothing is worse than watching a house for 3 weeks just to find out you were on the wrong street (this happened to a buddy of mine, what an idiot).

And if your agency or city likes to cut corners and pinch pennies, at least demand that they don’t put government tags on their un-marked detective cars.

Just saying.

5.  The writing – When I say writing, I’m not talking about the typical crime report that a lot of street cops are accustomed to.

I’m talking A L-O-T of W-R-I-T-I-N-G. 

And if you are one of the few who are selected to work homicides in your city, expect to write even more.

I have been the primary investigator on numerous homicide cases in my career and have written many final case reports that are well north of 75 to 100 pages.

Remember, you are writing the final chapter of someones life that was ended by the hand of another.

One of my favorite quotes that hangs up on the desk of one our seasoned homicide detectives reads, “To the living we owe respect, to the dead we owe the truth”.

The truth should never be abbreviated or portrayed in a slack or condensed final report.


This list is not intended to cover everything that being an investigator or detective entails. I believe a lot of people go into this realm of policing without a real understanding of what the job is really about. I know I did.

You can find other ORIGINAL articles like this one and more at The Salty Sarge Facebook Page.


  1. I think you forgot to mention how much you must enjoy going to court and dealing with ‘special’ defence lawyers.

  2. My current role seen through fresh eyes. It really is the same no matter where you are! Thanks as always for your witty thoughts.

  3. Awesome article and so true. Some times I wonder how it is to have a bigger department. In a small department like mine, the investigator covers it all. The petty theft all the way to homicide.

  4. Spent eight years as a detective and loved it but……you are absolutely right with your points. Need to also advise, cases certainly don’t go away when solved, a conviction, etc….some remain in your thoughts, nightmares, life FOREVER. Be prepared.

  5. Not to mention that even if you did everything right, if you covered every lead, gathered all evidence, and maybe even acquired a confession, you may still get a “not guilty” because the victim decided to craw fish out of their original statement. Then you’re left just wondering why you poured yourself into this great case only to have the rug pulled out from under feet. You just have to learn to let those kind of cases go.

  6. Just cause you take a day off, the case load doesn’t. Unlike patrol, when you take a day off in CID your cases and more will be waiting for your return.

  7. Don’t forget the crippling anxiety that the stress of the job caused sometimes. Worked Homicide for years and the stress put on us from the case work and the chain on command was high. Damn good job though.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.