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Criminal Investigator and Special Agent  What They Do

Just the Facts


Investigates alleged or suspected criminal violations of Federal, state, or local laws to determine if evidence is sufficient to recommend prosecution.

This career is part of the Law, Public Safety, Corrections and Security cluster Law Enforcement Services pathway.


A person in this career:

  • Prepares reports that detail investigation findings.
  • Obtains and verifies evidence by interviewing and observing suspects and witnesses, or by analyzing records.
  • Identifies case issues and evidence needed, based on analysis of charges, complaints, or allegations of law violations.
  • Investigates organized crime, public corruption, financial crime, copyright infringement, civil rights violations, bank robbery, extortion, kidnapping, and other violations of federal or state statutes.
  • Records evidence and documents, using equipment such as cameras and photocopy machines.
  • Obtains and uses search and arrest warrants.
  • Testifies before grand juries concerning criminal activity investigations.
  • Searches for and collects evidence, such as fingerprints, using investigative equipment.
  • Determines scope, timing, and direction of investigations.
  • Collects and records physical information about arrested suspects, including fingerprints, height and weight measurements, and photographs.

Insider Info

Dig into the details and check out what people in this job have to say about their work.



Working Conditions and Physical Demands

People who do this job report that:

  • You would often handle loads up to 20 lbs., sometimes up to 50 lbs. You might do a lot of lifting, carrying, pushing or pulling.
  • Exposed to disease and infections more than once a month through work such as patient care, laboratory work, and sanitation control
  • Conditions are very hot (above 90 F) or very cold (under 32 F)
  • Exposed to hazardous equipment such as saws, machinery, or vehicular traffic more than once a month
  • Work in this occupation requires being inside most of the time
  • Sound and noise levels are loud and distracting
  • Work in this occupation requires being outside most of the time
  • Work in this occupation involves sitting more than one-third of the time

Working in this career involves (physical activities):

  • Identifying color and seeing differences in color, including shades and brightness
  • Seeing clearly at a distance
  • Seeing clearly up close
  • Speaking clearly enough to be able to be understood by others
  • Identifying and understanding the speech of another person

Work Hours and Travel

  • Irregular hours
  • Overnight travel
  • Overtime work
  • Rotating shift work
  • Weekend work

Specialty and Similar Careers

Careers that are more detailed or close to this career:

  • Air Marshal -- Responsible not only for the security of aircraft but for national security as it pertains to all aspects of transportation and the country's critical infrastructure.
  • CIA Agent (Central Intelligence Agency Agent) -- Conducts sensitive and high profile inquiries into possible violations of laws, rules, and regulations; mismanagement; gross waste of funds; abuse of authority; or substantial and specific danger to the public health and safety.
  • Counter Intelligence Agent -- Investigates activities of enemy agents, collaborationists or other specified personnel known or suspected to have knowledge or record of counterintelligence information.
  • Crime Scene Investigator (CSI) -- Processes crime scenes and gathers evidence during a criminal investigation.
  • Criminal Profiler -- Creates a psychological profile of a criminal suspect, which can then be used to help catch the suspect.
  • Deputy United States Marshal -- Enforces law and order under jurisdiction of federal courts.
  • Detective -- Carries out investigations to prevent crimes or solve criminal cases.
  • Drug Enforcement Agent -- Responsible for controlling and enforcing laws regarding drugs within the country.
  • FBI Special Agent (Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent) -- Conducts surveillance, monitors court-authorized wiretaps, investigates white-collar crime, and carries out undercover assignments, as primary investigators for the government.
  • Narcotics Detective -- Investigates and apprehends persons suspected of illegal sale or use of narcotics.
  • Police Officer -- Patrols assigned beat on foot, on motorcycle, in patrol car, or on horseback to control traffic, prevent crime or disturbance of peace, and arrest violators.