You may not end up in a hot and heavy bedroom scene with your handsome partner, but you will do a lot of the things that homicide investigators do on TV. At the scene, you’ll view the body and collect evidence and then you’ll spread out with your team to try to solve the murder. It’s not very glamorous in reality, but being a homicide detective can be rewarding when you bring the bad guys to justice.
You’ll rely on crime scene technicians to gather much of the physical evidence at the scene of the crime, but you’ll direct their efforts and look around for other signs of evidence that could lead to answers. You’ll search the area for the weapon used in the murder, for example, or direct the techs to pick up pieces of a broken vase to dust for fingerprints and blood. You’ll work in all kinds of weather and a wide range of other physical environments, like hot, dirty apartments and back-street alleys that you wouldn’t normally find yourself visiting.
The detectives on television often wear 4-inch spiked heels, but you’ll be much better off with more comfortable footwear when you’re working a fresh homicide. You’ll be doing a lot of walking and driving to follow up on potential witnesses and interview family members and associates of the victim. You may lead a canvass of the area that requires you to go door-to-door in a neighborhood or apartment building. You may even get involved in chasing suspects who flee when they see you coming.
You’ll be expected to write down everything you see and do in your daily reports. While you may be accustomed to typing with your thumbs, at a crime scene, you’ll use a tape recorder and old-fashioned pen or pencil to sketch a scene, write down remarks of interview subjects and make notes about what you gathered in your investigation. Back at the station, you’ll type up those notes for the official record. Much of the work of homicide investigators is done in the office and not in the streets because reports are vital for court records and to keep track of the chain of events during the investigation.
Working for the police or a private investigation company as a homicide detective is not the safest career you could choose. You’re constantly at risk of being attacked by witnesses or by the killers when you’re hot on their trails. You may have to wrestle a suspect to the ground or duck when furniture starts flying as you enter a home to interview suspects. Your work takes you out in the field during all hours of the day and night, oftentimes placing you in dangerous situations. Be prepared to get physical when you choose this career path.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."