“Investigator” and “detective” are two terms often used interchangeably by the general public and in pop culture. However, these are two different careers with two different purposes in reality. While investigators and detectives both collect evidence, talk to witnesses, and observe, they also have many differences. If you are interested in a career as either an investigator or a detective, read on to discover the differences between these two professions.
What is an Investigator?
Individuals or clients typically hire investigators to investigate matters related to financial issues, civil suits, marital issues, or even conduct background checks. There are several different types of investigators, including financial, corporate, crime scene, and domestic, to name a few. Clients may hire private investigators to look into many issues, including infidelity, missing persons, fraud, forensics, or repossessions.
What is a Detective?
A detective is an investigator employed by either police departments or law enforcement agencies at the local, state, and federal levels. Their purpose is to serve a community within the jurisdiction that their department or agency covers by investigating criminal activity. It is a detective’s job to find out who committed criminal acts and why so that the perpetrators may be brought to justice.
Main Differences Between Investigators and Detectives
While there are some similarities investigators and detectives share, a few things set them apart. Especially if you are considering a career either as an investigator or a detective, it’s a good idea to keep these differences in mind.
Types of Cases
Although it’s not unusual for detectives and investigators to work together in some instances, they generally specialize in different cases. Investigators work on issues determined by the client or individual who hired them. These investigations can relate to anything from shoplifting to internet dating. On the other hand, detectives deal with cases that are relevant to the jurisdiction that their department or agency serves such as homicides, drugs charges, or assault cases. Their main goal is to bring perpetrators to justice.
Training and Experience
In most cases, to become a detective, you must have at least three years of experience in law enforcement or on active duty patrol. Those interested in a career as a detective should receive the training needed to become a police officer first, including training at a police academy. Conversely, the required training to become an investigator may vary by state, depending on the state’s licensing requirements. While experience in law enforcement is not necessary, the knowledge gained as a law enforcement officer will enhance an investigative career.
Education and Licensing
Because detectives must have law enforcement experience, they may not necessarily need a degree beyond high school, although it’s certainly not discouraged.
Many states require a license to work as an Investigator. Licensing varies by state, including a clean background check, previous law enforcement experience or a state license. Investigators may also have degrees in related subjects such as criminal justice, forensics, psychology, or sociology.
Investigators cannot legally perform acts that police officers have the authority to do, such as making arrests, conducting search warrants, or seizing property without permission during an investigation. Because a law enforcement agency employs detectives, they do have this authority. Investigators may be able to conduct surveillance on subjects and gather evidence of criminal activity, but they cannot act on any disciplinary measures in response to this illegal activity. Learn more about what investigators can and cannot do.
The Bottom Line
Although investigators and detectives have some commonalities and often collaborate, the details reveal some significant differences in the two career paths. Each one has its own set of pros and cons, specialties, and requirements. Either way, they both provide an essential service to society, and both are interesting and noble career choices.
If you are interested in a career as an investigator, NITA offers courses that can help you reach your goals. Check out our list of courses to learn more about NITA today.
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