Tim Dees Answers:

Why do detectives have to be cops first?

T Dees downloadTim Dees, retired cop and criminal justice professor, Reno Police Department, and Reno Municipal Court, is considered a “Top Writer” in the field of Law Enforcement, Police Procedures, and Criminal Justice. He’s been read in Time, Newsweek and many more professional magazines as well as on Quora.

This post was taken (with Tim’s permission) from Quora, an online Q & A forum on many subjects. Tim is a Quora “Most Viewed Writer” in Interacting with Police.


First, detectives are cops. They simply have a different assignment than the uniformed guys in patrol.

Television has convinced many people they know everything they need to know to be detectives. TV makes it look easy. You want to question someone, and they are both immediately available to you and willing to talk. You only work one case at a time, and if it goes to trial, the trial is later that week. If someone clams up and demands their lawyer, all you have to do is act mean and they’ll come apart in a heartbeat. Confessions are obtained in minutes.

Police work is very seldom like what you see on TV. No two calls are exactly the same, and you have to be able to apply broad legal and procedural principles to ambiguous situations, often when the immediate world is coming apart. While you think you can keep it together at these moments, I can guarantee you will have experiences where you have no idea what you are supposed to do next. Those experiences happen less often as you grow in the job, but they still come around now and again for everyone.

In order to do long, complex interviews, you first have to learn to do short ones. Those happen on traffic stops, on field interviews, when you’re talking to a domestic violence or burglary victim. You have to know about search and seizure, which is a field that changes constantly. When can you stop someone? When can you search them? Is there a difference between a search for weapons and a search for evidence of a crime (hint: yes, there is). If you have a search warrant for someone’s house, can you also search their garage?

You also have to learn about people very different from you. You have to be aware of the body language of native Asians and Hispanics, which can be very different from that of Americans. You have to know your community at a level people who live there all their lives never get into.

These things are all learned while you’re a patrol cop. Some people learn faster than others. Hardly anyone gets it before they’ve been doing it five years. A few people circumvent the usual career path and get promoted before that, but they nearly always become substandard cops, people who could have been much better in their jobs if they were left on a vine a little longer.

Policing is something almost no one understands until they have done it. There is no way to acquire the necessary experience in a classroom or from a book. You have to live it.

Dees at Quora


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