Whether you’re a member of a local or federal police organization or work for yourself in a private agency, one advantage of being a detective is that you don't have to wear a bulky uniform. You’ll usually dress to fit in with the environment so you don't stand out in the crowd as a detective. The working conditions vary according to the assignment. Some of it will take place behind a desk, some of it in the crime lab, and much of it out in the field gathering evidence and interviewing witnesses.
Detectives get their assignments in the office or police station, where they also meet with staff and fellow team members. They typically review the cases, accept their orders for the day and share notes with other detectives. At the end of the shift, they file reports. Detectives spend much of their office time on a computer reviewing information or on the phone asking questions. While an office environment can be hectic at times, the working conditions are usually pretty pleasant because you don't have to deal with severe weather, traffic or physical danger.
As a detective, a significant amount of your time is spent in your car. You’ll need it to travel to various locations to interview suspects and witnesses, investigate crime scenes and set up surveillance. With telescopic cameras, binoculars and recording devices, you might end up spending a considerable amount of time sitting in your car just waiting for something to happen. Waiting is a big part of detective work. You’ll eat in your car while you wait. When restrooms aren't handy, detectives limit their fluid intake on long surveillance assignments. Sometimes they spend hours alone, while other times they sit in the car with a partner.
Fieldwork can be treacherous for detectives. They encounter dangerous situations when apprehending criminals or investigating people who are desperate to hide something. As a police force detective, you’ll be armed and trained to use your weapon properly. Private detectives with a permit to carry a gun also go through extensive weapons training. The field can consist of everything from busy city streets to remote and isolated locations such as a dark warehouse in the middle of nowhere. You also must prepare for every kind of weather. Outdoor conditions range from searing heat and freezing temperatures to heavy rain and blinding snow.
While detectives often dress casually to fit in with their working environment, they must dress up for court. As a detective, you’ll be expected to testify when cases you have been involved in go to trial. In addition to writing reports about your work and gathering the evidence to convict criminals, there are times when your working conditions are more stable and predictable, like when you have to sit and wait in the courtroom corridor until you’re called to the stand or wait in the galley as a trial takes place. Taking the stand to testify requires a calm demeanor and solid understanding of your information and your role in the prosecution.
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."