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Detective

A detective is an officer of the police that performs criminal or administrative investigations, or a private person licensed to investigate information not readily available in public records (also called private eye).

Table of contents

Detectives and their work

Becoming a detective

In most American police departments, a candidate for detective must have served as a uniformed officer for a period of one to five years before becoming qualified for the position.

Detectives obtain their position by competitive examination, covering such subjects as:

  • Principles, practices, and procedures of investigations
  • Principles, practices, and procedures of interviewing and interrogation
  • Local criminal law and procedures
  • Applicable law governing arrests, search and seizures, warrants, and evidence
  • Police department records and reports
  • Principles, practices and objectives of courtroom testimony
  • Police department methods and procedures

Private detectives are licensed by the state in which they live after passing a competitive examination and a criminal background check. Some states, such as Maryland, require a period of classroom training as well.

Organization of detectives

The detective bureau in most police departments is organized into several squads, each of which specializes in a type of investigation such as:

Techniques of detectives

Street work

Detectives have a wide variety of techniques available in conducting investigations. However, the majority of cases are solved by interrogation of suspects and witnesses, which takes time. In a policemanís career as a uniformed officer and as a detective, a detective develops an intuitive sense of the plausibility of suspect and witness accounts. This intuition may fail at times, but usually is reliable.

Besides interrogations, detectives may rely on a network of informants he or she has cultivated over the years. Informants often have connections with persons a detective would not be able to approach formally.

In criminal investigations, once a detective has a suspect or suspects in mind, the next step is to produce evidence that will stand up in a court of law. The best way is to obtain a confession from the suspect, usually in exchange for a plea bargain for a lesser sentence. A detective may lie or otherwise mislead and may psychologically pressure a suspect into confessing, though in the United States a suspect may invoke his or her Miranda rights[?].

Forensic evidence

Physical forensic evidence[?] in an investigation may provide leads to closing a case.

Examples of physical evidence can be, but are not limited to:

  • Fingerprinting of objects persons have touched
  • DNA analysis
  • Footprints or tire tracks
  • Chemical testing for the presence of narcotics[?] or expended gun propellant
  • The exact position of objects at the scene of an investigation

Many major police departments in a city, county, or state, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, maintain their own forensic laboratories.

Records investigation

Detectives may use public and private records to provide background information on a subject. These include:

  • Fingerprint records. In the United States, the FBI maintains records of people who have committed felonies and some misdemeanors, all persons who have applied for a Federal security clearance, and all persons who have served in the U.S. armed forces
  • Records of criminal arrests and convictions
  • Photographs or mug shots, of persons arrested
  • Motor vehicle records
  • Credit card records and bank statements
  • Hotel registration cards
  • Credit reports

Court testimony

Unless a plea bargain forestalls the need for a trial, a detective must testify in court about his investigation. He or she must seem reliable and credible to a jury, and must not give the impression of personal vindictiveness or cruelty. A detective's background often comes into question in courtroom testimony. A famous example came in the murder trial of O.J. Simpson, when Detective Mark Fuhrman of the Los Angeles Police Department testified for the prosecution. Attorney F. Lee Bailey[?] first asked Furhman if he had ever used the "n-word" (see Nigger). Furhman denied this. In court, Bailey produced taped interviews with Furhman using this offensive word.

Famous detectives

Fictional detectives

The detective story has been a popular genre in books, radio, television, and movies since the early 19th century.

Famous fictional detectives include:

See Detective fiction and Crime fiction for more details.

See also:



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