As sworn officers, detectives vow to protect citizens, uphold laws and conduct criminal investigations. Some detectives specialize in a particular area of law enforcement, such as homicide, fraud, juvenile crime or the drug task force. Private detectives work for individuals, business and lawyers gathering information to uncover fraud, computer crimes or marital misconduct. Compensation and benefits vary by location, industry and detective type.
Detectives earned a median wage of $68,820 per year in 2010 according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. The lower 10 percent earned $38,850, while those in the upper 25 percentile earned $50,020. Wages for detectives in the upper 75 percentile exceeded the median wage by $21,930 in 2010. The upper 75 percentile earned $90,750 compared to detectives in the upper 90 percentile who earned $119,320 annually.
Highest Paid Detectives
Detectives employed by the federal executive branch earned the highest salary among government-employed detectives, based on BLS wage estimates. Federally employed detectives earned $93,210 per year. Postal detectives earned the next highest salary of $90,770 annually. Colleges, universities and professional schools paid detectives an annual mean wage of $62,300. Detectives employed by the local government earned an annual mean wage of $61,930 followed by state-employed detectives, who earned an annual mean wage of $54,340.
Detective supervisors coordinate work schedules and duties, oversee criminal investigations and discipline staff for regulation violations and misconduct. According to the BLS, supervisors employed by the federal government earned $114,170 in 2010 followed by postal service supervisors, who earned an annual mean of $82,360. State and local government detective supervisors earned annual mean wages of $79,030 and $77,970, respectively.
Private detectives work for individuals, business and lawyers gathering information to uncover fraud, computer crimes or marital misconduct. Most private detectives conduct a majority of their research on computers. Depending on the case, a private detective may go undercover, conduct surveillance or gather information through one-on-one interviews. Around 21 percent of private detectives freelance, which means there are no benefits.
Private Detective Industries
Compensation varies by industry. Investigation and security services, the most common industry, paid an annual mean wage of $44,040, according to the BLS. Management, scientific and technical consulting services paid the highest annual mean wage of $90,820. California employed the highest number of private detectives at an annual mean wage of $55,920. Virginia paid the highest annual mean wage of $66,590.
Typical benefits for detectives include vacation and sick leave along with medical and life insurance. Benefits vary by jurisdiction and branch of employment. Beneficiaries receive death benefits through the Public Safety Officers' Benefits Program if a state, local or federal law enforcement officer dies in the line of duty. The Public Safety Officers' Benefits Program also offers disability benefits to officers disabled in the line of duty. Spouses and children of deceased or disabled law enforcement officers receive education benefits.
- BLS: Police and Detectives
- BLS: Private Detectives and Investigators
- BLS: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2010 -- Detectives and Criminal Investigators
- O*Net Online: First-Line Supervisors/Managers of Police and Detectives
- BLS: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2010 -- First-Line Supervisors of Police and Detectives
- BLS: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2010 -- Private Detectives and Investigators
- U.S. Office of Justice Programs: Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program -- Death Benefits
- U.S. Office of Justice Programs: Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program -- Disability Benefits
- U.S. Office of Justice Programs: Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program -- Educational ...