North Carolina Detective & Criminal Investigator Careers & Education

Kellie Hanna, CPRW
By Kellie Hanna, CPRW, Career Advice Expert Last Updated: March 13, 2023

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If you’re looking for a state with plenty of jobs for police detectives (also known as criminal investigators), you may not need to look any farther than North Carolina. The Tar Heel State’s major metro areas provide some of the highest detective job concentrations in the Southeast region – and North Carolina’s small towns and nonmetropolitan areas also employ hundreds of detectives.

This page will walk you through the basics of launching your career as a detective in North Carolina, including the basic steps of your education, and the steps for working your way up through the ranks. With these tips in hand you’ll be ready to get started on your own detective career path anywhere in North Carolina.

Becoming a Detective in North Carolina

Earning a detective job in North Carolina takes some time. You’ll need to work your way through a series of steps, since detectives in North Carolina are typically promoted from within the ranks of a police force or other law enforcement agency. Here are the basic steps you’ll be following:

  • The first thing you’ll need is a high school diploma or General Educational Development (GED) certificate.
  • Submit an application to any North Carolina law enforcement training academy certified by the North Carolina Department of Justice’s Law Enforcement Training & Standards Commission, and by the NC DOJ’s Criminal Justice Education & Training Standards – for example, a training center like the North Carolina Justice Academy or the Raleigh Police Department Training Academy.
  • Pass North Carolina’s Police Officer Physical Ability Test (POPAT).
  • Pass a medical examination, a polygraph test and a Criminal History and Driving History Review, as well as an oral examination from an officer.
  • Enroll in the academy and complete your training in order to earn your North Carolina Basic Law Enforcement Training Certificate.
  • Work for at least two years as a patrol officer, build up a portfolio of solved cases, and maintain at least an overall “satisfactory” rating on your performance evaluations.
  • When a detective job opens up, submit a memorandum of interest, a resume and two written recommendations from supervisors to the review board.
  • Pass the oral board, in which a panel of superior officers will discuss your previous casework, assess your psychological state, and make sure you’re ready to enter full-time detective work.
  • Pass a written exam, and attend an interview with a command-level officer.
  • Get assigned to a detective position. This doesn’t mean an increase in rank or pay, but it does mean you’ll be doing investigative work full-time, instead of serving on patrol.

It’s a time-consuming process, but at the end of it you’ll be working in a stable position in one of the Southeast region’s top states for detective employment.

Top North Carolina Employers for Detectives

A variety of employers in North Carolina offer job openings for detectives, and they range all the way from the state level down to wide-open nonmetropolitan areas. Here are some types of places where jobs are often available:

Here are some types of places in North Carolina where detective jobs are often available…

State agencies

A large percentage of North Carolina’s most prestigious detective positions are offered by agencies at the state level. Agencies like the North Carolina’s State Bureau of Investigation and the North Carolina Highway Patrol are looking for detectives to help gather evidence in criminal cases, as well as in certain civil cases prosecuted by the state. You’re most likely to find the majority of these postings on large job websites like and, but the employment sections of state agency websites are also worth checking out, just to make sure you don’t miss any openings. You may also want to take a look at the “Working” section of, the official website of the North Carolina state government.

Metropolitan departments

North Carolina’s metropolitan areas – particularly Greensboro and Raleigh – boast some of the highest concentrations of detective jobs in the entire nation. While you don’t have to go to a metro area to find a city-based detective job opening, metro areas do tend to offer the widest variety of detective jobs – for example, with departments like the Asheville Police Department and the Raleigh Police Department. In positions like these, you may be assigned to work with police officers who recently opened cases in the city, or to gather evidence for criminal and civil court cases. You can find some job openings from city police departments by running a search for terms like “detective” and “criminal investigator” under the “Jobs” sections of their official websites.

County sheriff’s departments

North Carolina’s large rural population needs protection too, and some of the state’s nonmetropolitan areas offer opportunities for detectives who want to escape city life and serve in a quieter region. The Western North Carolina nonmetropolitan area, for example, offers a high concentration of jobs for detectives who want to tackle cases in small towns, in the open countryside, and anywhere else where crimes are committed outside city limits. These jobs may involve working closely with North Carolina State Police officers, as well as other law enforcement officials who work the areas out of the jurisdiction of metro police forces.

North Carolina’s Top Institutions for Criminal Justice and Police Science

While it’s true that you can earn a degree in criminal justice or police science from a wide variety of colleges and universities throughout the U.S., it may be simpler to focus on schools in North Carolina if that’s the state where you’re planning to work. In reviews of criminal justice programs in North Carolina, certain schools’ names tend to be highly recommended. Here are quick profiles of each of them.

These North Carolina schools consistently get high ratings for their criminal justice programs…

North Carolina State University – Undergraduate Major in Criminology

Offered as an area of special focus by NCSU’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology, this school’s criminology major is designed to provide a broad perspective on the field. That means the major covers a wide range of related disciplines, from sociology and political science to correctional facilities and juvenile delinquency. Many of the school’s faculty members are active researchers in these fields, so your classes will offer the most up-to-date perspectives and data on the factors that contribute to crime. Although this program doesn’t focus very heavily on patrol work, NCSU’s Career Development Center still has a solid track record of placing graduates in field positions with criminal justice agencies around the country.

University of North Carolina, Charlotte – Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology

The UNC school system oversees 16 campuses throughout the state, but the Charlotte campus is the one that’s particularly well-known for its criminal justice program. The department’s award-winning faculty come from a variety of academic disciplines, including criminology and sociology; as well as from active-duty positions at actual law enforcement agencies. Classroom lectures will give you background in the social issues surrounding crime, while practical labs will cover the latest techniques in evidence analysis. Student organizations like the Criminal Justice Association, Alpha Phi Sigma Honor Society and the Pre-Law Society will also give you opportunities to network with like-minded peers. Study-abroad opportunities and a required senior-year internship will round out your education, and help set you up with an impressive entry-level resume by the time you graduate.

North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University – Criminal Justice Program

North Carolina A&T offers a criminal justice major that concentrates on practical aspects of crime scene investigation. The school’s certificate in Crime Scene Investigation focuses not only on evidence-gathering and basic laboratory work, but also on criminal law and legal communication. A faculty of actual law enforcement professionals and criminology researchers will help provide you with the necessary background to conduct fieldwork, and your lab practice will prepare you to perform effectively as a detective once you graduate. Plus, North Carolina A&T maintains active links with agencies like the FBI and CIA, which can help you land the internship – and eventually the investigative job – that you’re hoping for.

Central Piedmont Community College – Criminal Justice Degree Program

CPCC’s Criminal Justice Technology major provides an education that’s focused on the nuts and bolts of law enforcement at the local, state and federal levels – but the major also provides background on law, ethics and community relations. Since the campus also hosts a Basic Law Enforcement Training (BLET) facility and offers State of North Carolina Mandated and In-Service Training for law enforcement officers, many of the faculty are active-duty law enforcement professionals. The program is designed to certify students for entry-level positions in law enforcement agencies, or to combine with Basic Law Enforcement Training certification to qualify students for higher-evel positions as detectives and administrators.

North Carolina Associations for Law Enforcement Professionals

A professional association is worth joining even if your own department is highly supportive of you. That’s because associations can offer benefits that a single department simply can’t – like opportunities to connect with professionals from other agencies at large networking events, access to info about job openings at other agencies and in other departments, and connections with businesses and schools throughout the state. Your association may also be ab e to help you secure legal representation if you need it, and even help pay for your kids’ college education. So take a look at the North Carolina law enforcement associations below, and see if one of them is right for you.

Professional associations provide a variety of benefits for North Carolina detectives…

North Carolina Law Enforcement Officers Association (NCLEOA)

Becoming a member of the NCLEOA means gaining access to a variety of different career-boosting options. One of the biggest benefits is the calendar of events run by the Association – events where you can meet officers from other departments, swap tips and insights from the field, and even learn about job opportunities. Many of these events also involve training seminars, which can improve your skillset and help prepare you to take your recertification exams. The NCLEOA’s trained legislative representatives will also fight for your rights and benefits as an officer, in lawmaking bodies at the local and state levels. All these rewards make this organization worth joining for any law enforcement officer in North Carolina.

North Carolina Association of Chiefs of Police (NCACP)

One of the top reasons for joining the NCACP is to meet hundreds of other members – all of whom bring their knowledge of the field to the Association’s regular regional meetups. In fact, despite this organization’s name, it isn’t just for police chiefs, but for a variety of higher-ranking police officers throughout the state of North Carolina. That means it provides training and networking opportunities for officers at all levels, including preparation courses for recertification exams, and even a mentoring program where chiefs take on coaching responsibilities toward younger officers. Membership will also give you access to the NCACP’s team of respected attorneys, who can represent you in court if you ever need it. And the Association’s legislative professionals will fight for your rights and benefits at the state and local levels, too.

North Carolina Sheriff Police Alliance (NCSPA)

The main focus of the NCSPA is on representation – which means that as a member, you’ll have the option to call in an attorney on the spot at any scene of a shooting or other violent incident, and to hire an attorney through NCSPA for any court case in which you’re involved. Experienced legislative professionals will also represent you and your fellow North Carolina law enforcement officers at the state and local levels of the North Carolina legislature. You’ll also get private financial counseling and help setting up your pension fund, as well as help negotiating – or renegotiating – your benefits within your own police department or other law enforcement agency.

North Carolina State Law Enforcement Women’s Association (NCLEWA)

If you’re a female officer in North Carolina state law enforcement, then the NCLEWA is designed just for you. As a member of the Association, you’ll have regular opportunities to attend networking events, where you can talk with other women in state law enforcement, share your knowledge from the field, and find out about job opportunities with other agencies and departments. You’ll also get access to exclusive training opportunities, which can teach you new skills and prepare you for the exams you’ll take to maintain your certification. You’ll also get to participate in fundraisers and other charity events, which will help you give back to the community and foster goodwill with local people.

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