The Average Income of a Detective

Detective careers offer paths in both the private and public sectors.

Aspire to investigative work? You can take one of two primary career paths. Most detectives work for police forces, looking for evidence at crime scenes so that the perpetrators of crimes can be punished. Others, called private detectives, work for non-governmental entities or private clients. While both involve detective work, private investigators and criminal investigators report significantly different salaries.

Police Detectives

Police detectives, sometimes called criminal investigators, begin their careers as patrol officers until promoted to the position of detective. Figures published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicate that police detectives earned an average annual salary of $77,860 as of May 2012. Detectives working for local police departments earned an average of $64,610, state police detectives averaged $58,460 per year, and those employed by the federal government reported an average salary of $100,290 per year.

Private Detectives

Private detectives provide a variety of services to businesses and clients, such as attempting to locate missing persons, investigating rule infractions, or conducting surveillance and background checks. According to the BLS, as of May, 2012, the average salary for a private investigator was $50,780, significantly less than the salary averaged by police detectives. About half worked for private investigation and security companies, earning an average of $46,700 per year. Companies in some industries employed their own private detectives and paid them an average of above $70,000 per year. These industries included consulting services, electrical power companies, and aerospace manufacturers.

Regional Pay Variations

In general, police detectives working in the West and Northeast tended to earn the most money, while those in the Southeast earned the lowest pay. Across the nation, average pay for police detectives ranged from a low of $49,530 in Arkansas to a high of $115,230 in the District of Columbia. Average pay for private investigators, on the other hand, did not follow clear regional patterns. The lowest-paying state was South Dakota, where private detectives averaged $33,720 per year. Private detectives in Washington state earned the most, an average of $70,510.

Job Outlook

Through 2020, the BLS expects 3,500 new jobs to be created for police detectives and 7,100 new jobs to be created for private detectives. Police officers can expect competition from fellow officers who also aspire to be promoted into a finite number of detective positions. Aspiring private detectives should also expect competition for jobs, especially from former police and military personnel, who are often given favorable consideration for private investigator positions.

2016 Salary Information for Private Detectives and Investigators

Private detectives and investigators earned a median annual salary of $48,190 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, private detectives and investigators earned a 25th percentile salary of $35,710, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $66,300, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 41,400 people were employed in the U.S. as private detectives and investigators.

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