Detectives are the ones that more often than not, head up the investigation for serious criminal cases.
How does this work?
It typically happens like this:
A crime is committed and someone calls police for help. The officers who are working in the radio cars will go to the scene and investigate the crime. Perhaps they get there and discover that the crime is a homicide, and the uniform officers cordon off the scene. Word gets back to the Station house and a Det. will come out to the scene and investigate.
The information that is uncovered through the scene, whether it be through physical evidence left behind, witness statements, video surveillance footage, and evidence uncovered by crime scene investigation gets put together.
He must sift through the evidence carefully and see if a suspect can be identified. If a suspect is identified and an arrest is made, they must now follow through the entire case and prepare it for trial.
This includes organizing paperwork relating to evidence to be brought to the trial, ensuring that witnesses are advised and attending the court and liasing with the district attorney.
However, things never really go that smoothly. We're just discussing one case here- in reality he or she may be running a three ring circus with several cases going all at one time!
How does somebody become a Detective? Well, normally an officer in any police department works in uniform for many years in a squad car going to 911 calls. Eventually, with enough time and experience, you can apply for promotion.
Depending on the size of the department you may be working for 8-10 years before you are successful in stepping up in rank. For smaller department it could be less depending on the need.
When you seek promotion, you are competing with other people, so you will have to make sure that you study your ass off! There will be a written exam as well as an interview and then you will be ranked on a list.
Then, you wait...
Television and media often portray being a Detective as a glamorous position within the department. It is, to an extent, but it's a lot of paperwork and casework.
It's not like the movies where they just walk around in a slick suit and expensive shades. They have a lot of responsibility and like mentioned earlier, cases and trials can be scheduled at any time the courts choose. Shuffling around, organizing, and preparing for trial can be quite a chore when you have a whole rack of cases coming up.
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