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 Pennsylvania. The Keystone State’s major metro areas provide some of the highest detective job concentrations in the Midwest region – and Pennsylvania’s small towns and townships employ hundreds of detectives as well.
This page will walk you through the basics of launching your career as a detective in Pennsylvania, 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 Pennsylvania.
To earn a detective job in Pennsylvania, you’ll need to go through a series of steps, since detectives in Pennsylvania 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.
- Apply to any law enforcement training academy certified by the Municipal Police Officers’ Training and Education Commission (MPOTEC) of Pennsylvania – for example, a training center like the Philadelphia Police Department’s Recruit Training Division or the Allegheny County Police Training Academy.
- Pass the written, physical and psychological exams conducted by the MPOTEC, and pass a background check.
- Complete your academy training, apply to a police department or other agency, and begin working as an officer.
- Work for at least five years as a patrol officer and build up a portfolio of solved cases.
- When a detective job opens up, apply for it by sending your resume case portfolio, along with written recommendations from your supervisors.
- Pass the oral board, where a group of superior officers will test your suitability for a detective position by asking you questions about your experience, your case work, and your enthusiasm for the job.
- Pass the written exam, and attend a private 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 Midwest’s top states for detective employment.
A variety of employers in Pennsylvania offer job openings for detectives, and they range all the way from the state level down to small towns and townships. Here are some types of places where jobs are often available:
Quite a few of Pennsylvania’s top-paying detective positions are offered by agencies at the state level. Agencies like the Pennsylvania Office of Inspector General and the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections are always on the lookout for experienced police 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 Indeed.com and SimplyHired.com – but you should also check out Employment.PA.gov, the official employment website of the Pennsylvania state government, just to make sure you don’t miss any openings.
Pennsylvania’s metropolitan areas – particularly Philadelphia and Pittsburgh – boast some of the highest concentrations of detective jobs in the Midwest region. 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, with local police departments such as the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police and the Philadelphia 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.
Small-town police departments
Pennsylvania’s small-town populations need protection too, and some of the state’s more rural areas offer opportunities for detectives who want to escape city life and serve in a quieter region. The Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton area, for example, offers a high concentration of jobs for detectives who want to tackle cases in small towns, in farm areas, and anywhere else where crimes are committed outside city limits. These jobs may involve working closely with Pennsylvania State Police officers, as well as other law enforcement officials who work the areas out of the jurisdiction of metro police forces.
Although you can earn a degree in criminal justice / police science from a wide variety of colleges and universities throughout the U.S., it may be simpler to focus on schools in Pennsylvania if that’s the state where you’re planning to work. In reviews of criminal justice programs in Pennsylvania, certain schools’ names tend to be highly recommended. Here are quick profiles of each of them.
University of Pennsylvania – Department of Criminology
The well-regarded U.S. News and World Report ranks ASU’s criminal justice program as one of the top 20 programs in the entire country. In 2007, the Chronicle of Higher Education also ranked UPenn’s faculty as first in the nation for criminology and criminal justice departments. Classes cover many aspects of criminal justice, from sociology and statistics to forensic science and law. The university’s Jerry Lee Center of Criminology conducts a variety of research projects, which can help connect you with teams of experts in the field. By the time you’re ready to graduate, you’ll have information and practical experience from a wide range of related disciplines under your belt.
Temple University – Department of Criminal Justice
Also highly ranked by U.S. News and World Report, Temple hosts one of the top-rated criminal justice programs in the country. Temple’s faculty includes more than two dozen of respected criminal justice specialists and active-duty law enforcement professionals, and the school also offers an up-to-date crime lab and research facility for students to practice their investigative skills. Add in the ongoing department-wide research projects at the Center for Security and Crime Science, and you’ll have a variety of opportunities to develop your knowledge of law enforcement. Temple also provides a training and internship connections for students to transition into law enforcement jobs as they complete the program.
Indiana University of Pennsylvania – Department of Criminology
(Greater Pittsburgh area)
Indiana’s criminology department provides programs that integrate the theoretical aspects of criminology with the practical considerations of criminal justice. Classes cover law and behavior, as well as investigation and enforcement. The school’s faculty consist of experts in a variety of justice-related fields, and the department’s Criminology Advising Center will help ensure that you have access to the expertise you’ll need in order to make progress. In addition, the university’s Criminal Justice Training Center offers non-academic training programs for police recruits and other law enforcement personnel – which can help you transition directly into a law enforcement job when you graduate.
This school takes an interdisciplinary approach to criminal justice education, which means criminal justice majors also take classes in psychology, communications and behavioral theory, in addition to their justice courses. This equips graduates to work not only in law enforcement, but also in public administration and legal studies. Still, Harrisburg’s program provides emphasis on the practical side, with instruction from experienced faculty and hands-on work in labs and research projects. The school’s internship program connects senior-level students with jobs at local police departments and correctional institutions, making the move to full-time work a straightforward one.
Kutztown University of Pennsylvania – Department of Criminal Justice
(Greater Harrisburg area)
Kutztown’s criminal justice department offers more than 550 majors and more than a dozen nationally known criminal justice experts on its faculty. Courses cover a wide variety of topics, from corrections to juvenile delinquency to practical law enforcement; and faculty make sure the instruction they offer is as cutting-edge as possible in light of the latest data. You’ll have opportunities to network with like-minded peers through student organizations like the Criminal Justice Association, and the university’s Career Development Center will support you as you prepare to join the long list of Kutztown graduates who already work at federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.
If you’re planning to start a law enforcement career in Pennsylvania, you won’t want to miss out on the benefits offered by a professional association. Groups like these can connect you with thousands of other members from all across Pennsylvania – many of whom you’d never have met otherwise; any of whom could tip you off about an opportunity to advance your career. An association may also provide you with benefits like life insurance, chances at scholarsh ps for your kids, and direct access to a good lawyer if you ever need one. For all these reasons and more, take a look at the associations below, and consider joining at least one of them.
The PA FOP provides a wide variety of different services to its thousands of members, who hail from police departments and agencies all throughout the state of Pennsylvania. At regular events, conferences and seminars, you’ll have opportunities to talk with hundreds of other members, get the latest news and insights straight from the field, and hear about opportunities for advancement that may be opening up in their areas. You’ll also get access to exclusive training from members, which can further boost your chances at attaining higher ranks. the FOP’s connections with businesses throughout the state can get you discounts and other special offers. And the Order’s legislative experts will keep lobbying to maintain your salary, your benefits, and your standing as an officer at the local and state levels.
Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association (PA Chiefs)
Despite the word "Chiefs" in its name, the PA Chiefs Association actually serves a wide variety of higher-ranking officers throughout the state of Pennsylvania. As a member, you’ll get exclusive invites to conferences and other events, where you can meet fellow officers, exchange news and views from the field, and hear about the latest job opportunities opening up across the state. You’ll also get access to the Pennsylvania Virtual Training Network (PAVTN), where you can complete accredited online courses on the latest technology and techniques – any of which can help prepare you to move up in rank, and to keep your law enforcement certification current. If you ever need a lawyer, the PA Chiefs Association will connect you with an excellent one. And on top of it all, the Association’s legislative experts will lobby to uphold your rights as a Pennsylvania police officer, in the state and local legislatures.
If you’re working as a Pennsylvania State Trooper, joining the PSTA will provide you with a range of diverse benefits. They’ll provide you with discounted life insurance, they’ll help you plan for retirement, they’ll connect you with health care resources, and they’ll even represent you in cases of grievance against your employer. At a more personal level, other members can help you find employment, and also let you know about opportunities for special training and continuing education. Plus, at events like fundraisers and charity drives, you’ll have opportunities both to expand your professional network and to give back to the communities you serve, which will help foster civilians’ goodwill toward you and your fellow Pennsylvania state troopers.
Western Pennsylvania Police Chiefs’ Association (Western PA Chiefs)
For higher-ranking police officers in the western Pennsylvania region, the Western PA Chiefs provide a range of specialized services and benefits. At the Association’s regular charity events, training seminars, and other outings, you’ll have plenty of chances to meet other officers from the western counties, to network and find out about job opportunities, and to learn about how your fellow western Pennsylvania officers are dealing with cases in their towns and townships. You’ll also get invites to exclusive training and education courses, which can prepare you to advance, and to remain certified as a Pennsylvania police officer. Besides all these benefits, the Western PA Chiefs will represent you in negotiations with your employer, and in debates about your salary and benefits in legislatures throughout the state.