Detective and Criminal Investigator Careers and Schools in Washington
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 Washington. The Evergreen State’s major metro areas provide some of the highest detective job concentrations on the West Coast – and Washington’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 Washington, 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 Washington.
Earning a detective job in Washington takes some time. You’ll need to work your way through a series of steps, since detectives in Washington 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 Washington law enforcement academy certified by the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission (CJTC) – for example, a training center like the Washington State Patrol Training Academy or the King County Sheriff’s Department Training Academy.
- Pass a medical examination, a polygraph test, a physical fitness test and a background check, as well as an oral examination from an officer.
- Enroll in the academy and complete 720 hours of Basic Law Enforcement Academy (BLEA) training according to CJTC standards.
- Work for at least three 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 team of senior officers will talk with you and assess your readiness 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 West Coast’s top states for detective employment.
A variety of employers in Washington 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:
A large percentage of Washington’s most prestigious detective positions are offered by agencies at the state level. Agencies like the Washington State Attorney General’s Office and the Criminal Investigation Division of the Washington State Patrol are on the lookout 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 Indeed.com and SimplyHired.com – but you should also check out Careers.WA.gov, the official employment website of the Washington state government, just to make sure you don’t miss any openings.
Washington’s major metropolitan areas – particularly Olympia and Bellingham – boast some of the highest concentrations of detective jobs on the West Coast. 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 City of Seattle Police Department and the Olympia 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.
Washington’s rural populations need protection too, and some of the state’s more open areas offer opportunities for detectives who want to escape city life and serve in a quieter region. The Northwestern Washington nonmetropolitan area, for example, offers a relatively high concentration of jobs for detectives who want to tackle cases in the woods, on parkland, in small towns and townships, and anywhere else that’s outside the limits of the state’s major metro areas. Jobs like these may involve working closely with Washington State Police officers, as well as with other law enforcement officials who work the areas out of the jurisdiction of metro police forces.
Although it’s possible to 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 Washington if that’s the state where you’re planning to work. In reviews of criminal justice programs in Washington, certain schools’ names tend to be highly recommended. Here are quick profiles of each of them.
Washington State University – Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology
(Greater Spokane area)
The well-known Journal of Criminal Justice Education ranks WSU’s criminal justice department fourth in the entire nation. A faculty of nationally recognized researchers and law enforcement professionals teach classes on practical topics like law enforcement, courts and corrections; as well as on public policy and political science. You’ll have opportunities to network with your peers at student organizations like the Criminal Justice Club and Alpha Phi Sigma, the national criminal justice honor society. Round out your experience with an internship in your senior year, and you’ll already have the start of an impressive resume by the time you complete the program.
Eastern Washington University – Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice
(Greater Spokane area)
You’ll have the option to choose a law enforcement focus – among other options – in EWU’s criminal justice program. If you go the law enforcement route, you’ll complement your classes in sociology and criminal psychology with practical courses in forensic science, criminal procedure and police practices. A faculty of experienced criminology researchers often brings in guest lecturers who actually work in law enforcement, which means you’ll have opportunities to get insights straight from the field. A required senior-year internship will help you get some work experience at a law enforcement agency, so you can be ready to step into a job when you graduate.
Shoreline Community College – Department of Criminal Justice
(Greater Seattle area)
Shoreline’s criminal justice program is extremely heavy on the practical side of the field – every faculty member in the school’s criminal justice department is a former or current law enforcement professional. In classroom lectures and hands-on labs, you’ll get instruction on the issues that face real police detectives and other law enforcement workers every day. The program is geared specifically toward preparing students for work in law enforcement at the municipal, county, state or federal levels; and Shoreline’s internship program sets students up with work experience that’ll help them transition directly into one of those jobs.
The criminal justice program at UW Tacoma provides a strong humanitarian perspective on public service work. That means that in addition to developing students’ practical skills in evidence collection and crime analysis, the degree program also places huge emphasis on issues like social justice, diversity and community. During your senior year, UW will help set you up with an internship in community public service, or perhaps even with a prestigious federal agency like the United States Attorney’s Office. You’ll also have the option to take many classes in the major online, which means this school could be an option worth investigating if you need to keep your schedule flexible.
When you join forces with a professional association for Washington law enforcement officers, you’re setting yourself up with access to a whole range of benefits that likely aren’t available within your own department or agency. Associations can set you up with training to expand your skillset and prepare you for exams; connect with a top lawyer if you ever need one; let you know about job openings; provide college scholarships for your children; and even offer you discounts on life insurance. So as you start your career as a detective in Washington, take a look at the associations listed below, and consider joining at least one of them.
One of the largest law enforcement organizations in Washington state, the WACOPS provides a diverse variety of benefits to its thousands of members. When you join, you’ll get direct access to expert lawyers if you ever need a legal defense; you’ll get invites to exclusive training sessions which can improve your field skills and prepare you to ace your recertification exams; and your children may ev n be eligible to receive a college scholarship from the Association. In addition to all these benefits, you’ll also have chances to meet and talk with police and sheriffs from all across Washington state at conferences and networking events, and you’ll also be pooling resources with these thousands of other members to sponsor legislative lobbying on behalf of your pay, your benefits and your working rights, at the state and local levels.
If you’re working as a state law enforcement officer anywhere in Washington state, it’s worth your while to consider joining the WSLEA. One of the major benefits is ongoing training, in the form of sponsored classes that’ll expand your skillset and prepare you to pass your recertification exams. At these classes and at regular fundraisers and conferences, you’ll have opportunities to meet officers outside your own department, talk about the latest techniques and concepts you’re using in the field, and perhaps hear about jobs opening up in other areas. Meanwhile, WSLEA representatives will be actively lobbying for your rights and benefits as an officer, in state and local legislatures. And at charity drives and other community events, you’ll be able to give back to the civilians you serve, and foster goodwill toward state troopers in the neighborhoods you patrol.
While the WSLEA exists to serve all state law enforcement officers in Washington state, the WSPTA – as its name suggests – is an organization designed specifically for state patrol troopers. That means members like you can use this organization to connect with other troopers at meetings, fundraisers and other events, where you can find out what’s going on in the field, hear about promotion opportunities, or just expand your professional network. In Washington’s state legislature and in your local government, WSPTA’s trained lobbyists will work to preserve your salary, your benefits, your working conditions, and your other rights as a working officer. And you’ll also have opportunities to give back to the community at charity drives and other outreach events, which can help keep the communities you serve on the side of the law.
Despite its name, the WASPC is actually open to a variety of higher-ranking law enforcement officers throughout the state of Washington. As a member, you’ll have access to sponsored, accredited training, which can help qualify you for higher ranks and give you an edge on your competitors. You’ll have access to exclusive employment opportunities, both through the WASPC’s website and through the conversations you’ll have at Association meetings and other events. Your agency or department may also become eligible for a range of electronic data-sharing programs, which enable participating agencies throughout the state to collaborate and cooperate on busts. And you can also rest assured that the Association’s trained lobbyists will be working to preserve your salary, your benefits and your working conditions, both in the state capital and in your own local legislature.