8 Police Detective Responsibilities (And Essential Skills)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 13 October 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

If you're looking to pursue a career in the police force, you might be interested in becoming a detective. A detective operates in a specialised section of the police force with its own objectives and methods. Understanding the primary duties of detectives can help you decide if it's the right job for you. In this article, we examine eight detective responsibilities and explain six skills they require to be effective in their role.

Related: What Is Logical Thinking and Why Is It an Important Skill?

Police detective responsibilities

While the police force's duty is to prevent crimes, detective responsibilities include responding to crimes and determining who or what caused them. In their pursuit of solving cases, detectives operate across many aspects of the policing position, from interpersonal work with victims and suspects and interprofessional work with other police officers and branches. Here's a look at eight of the main roles of a detective:

1. Analysing crime scenes

As a secondary unit sent to investigate a crime, a detective typically arrives on the scene after uniformed police have secured the crime scene. Using investigative skills, they analyse the crime scene thoroughly to gather as much evidence as possible to help them determine the cause of the crime and the culprit. They use their analytical skills to conclude what led to the crime, which can help them decide where to proceed with the case.

Related: What Are the Working Hours of a Police Officer? (With Salary)

2. Questioning witnesses

A large part of the detective's role is to question any potential witnesses to the crime they're investigating. An eyewitness is a strong piece of evidence that a detective can use to help identify a potential suspect and is often the deciding factor in a case.

A detective might interview anybody present at the time and location of a crime, such as a next-door neighbour, a security guard or an innocent bystander. They record statements from witnesses to add to their file of the crime, which they continuously build until they're ready to approach a suspect.

3. Interrogating suspects

After gathering enough evidence, a detective can approach and question those they suspect were involved in a crime. They use many techniques to get the suspect to admit guilt, such as asking the same question multiple times to highlight inconsistencies in their statement.

A detective can also organise a line-up, where they plant anonymous people to stand next to the suspect to see if witnesses can identify them. The purpose of an interrogation is to push a suspect to admit guilt. If the suspect denies their involvement but the evidence the detective has gathered shows they were involved, they can take the matter to trial.

Related: 19 Forensic Careers to Consider (With Salary and Job Info)

4. Performing surveillance

If a detective is trying to gather more evidence on a suspect, they can often perform surveillance to observe their activities. They might do this in the hope of gathering evidence to prove a suspect guilty of a crime. Detectives can perform a stakeout, where they watch the suspect from a hidden position, often for long periods. Detectives might also perform undercover operations to witness illegal activities. Undercover operations may last for a long time.

5. Working with other departments

Detectives work independently and as part of a larger team. They often liaise with other units in the police force, such as the forensic and tactical units. They may also work with people outside the police force, such as judges and legal teams. With tactical units, they can assist in raids and carry lethal and non-lethal weapons, such as a pair of handcuffs, pepper spray, baton and small-calibre firearm.

When dealing with the forensic unit, detectives can gather evidence to show a suspect was present at a crime scene, such as a hair sample or fingerprint, which is strong evidence to determine a suspect's guilt. Beyond the police force, detectives can also work with independent groups, such as judges, to secure legal documents like search warrants and permission for surveillance against suspected criminals.

6. Organising evidence to present in court

Detectives develop hypotheses using their problem-solving skills and organise evidence to present a coherent sequence of evidence that explains how the suspect committed the crime. They keep a detailed record of the evidence they collect and use this to build their case and test their hypotheses. Once the Crown Prosecution Service agrees the case is strong enough to prosecute a suspect, police will charge the suspect with the crime. A detective may be required to appear as a witness for the prosecution in any subsequent court case.

Related: 9 Counterterrorism Careers (With Duties and Salaries)

7. Communicating with victims

The victims or witnesses to a crime may be distressed by the crime. Part of the detective's role is to keep in constant communication with all those related to the case and guide them when they're required to help prosecute the suspect. This can involve using empathy and communication to help them feel comfortable during this process while also keeping the necessary people aware of how matters are proceeding.

Related: 14 Careers in Criminal Justice (With Salaries and Duties)

8. Maintaining operational readiness

The responsibilities of a detective are often rigorous and require special skills and physical fitness. Detectives can participate in regular self-defence training programs to ensure they can perform their duties to a high standard and are skilled in correct police tactics. This involves regularly practising using their tools, such as handcuffs and firearms. Part of maintaining operational readiness can involve ensuring that the newest members of the force receive training. This can include taking on junior detectives to help guide and teach them.


  • How To Become a Police Officer

  • How to Become a Detective

  • How to Become a Criminal Profiler

  • How to Become a Forensic Accountant (With Step-Guide)

Detective skills

There are many skills police detectives require that allow them to effectively perform their duties. They require the ability to work with other professionals in a variety of departments in and outside the police force and also with members of the public. They're also required to adapt to rapidly changing situations. Here's a look at some skills detectives might use:

  • Communication skills: When working with other departments to build their cases, detectives communicate with many types of people. Communication skills allow detectives to work more effectively and keep those they work with informed of the progression of their case.

  • Fitness: Detectives may find themselves in a physical altercation with a suspect or involved in moments of high exertion. Maintaining physical fitness allows them to manage the often strenuous responsibilities involved in their role.

  • Empathy: Detectives spend a lot of time around victims of crimes whom they often rely on to help deliver evidence to build their cases. They require empathy skills to help the victims feel as comfortable as possible during such distressing times.

  • Knowledge of courtroom procedure: Detectives spend a lot of time in and out of courtrooms. They're able to help witnesses give evidence and work with the legal team to submit evidence effectively.

  • Adaptability: Situations can change rapidly for a detective, from changes in witness reliability to dangerous police raids. A detective adapts to situations to help them carry on with as little impact on the progress of their case as possible.

  • Evidence gathering: Detectives spend most of their time gathering evidence to build their cases. They're excellent at analysing a crime scene and have a great understanding of what evidence to gather and where to look for it.

This article is based on information available at the time of writing, which may change at any time. Indeed does not guarantee that this information is always up-to-date. Please seek out a local resource for the latest on this topic.

Explore more articles