How to Become a Special Victims Detective

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Special Victims Units have become famous due to the success of the "Law and Order" spin-off show which chronicles their exploits. SVU detectives handle sexual assault and child abuse cases--a sensitive part of law enforcement which often differs considerably from what we see on television. If you're interested in becoming a Special Victims detective, you need to plan for it in the long term. It takes years of work to get there.

  • Get an associate's degree or bachelor's degree in a field pertinent to law enforcement: criminal justice, forensic science, or the like. Most police departments require a specific number of college credits or an associate's degree in order to become a detective. A bachelor's degree is even better, and a few course in psychology and/or sociology can't hurt if you're hoping to join an SVU.

  • Join the police force by signing up to the police academy. You'll receive basic law enforcement training, physical conditioning and other courses designed to prepare you for police work. Upon completion, you'll become a beat cop--a uniformed officer working in a civic precinct. Most officers work from 2 to 6 years before they can apply for detective work; the exact time depends on your particular police department.

  • Learn the specific criteria for becoming an SVU detective. Each police department has its own standards, which you'll need to be familiar with as you advance. It can include training programs, attaining a certain rank, and/or affinity for SVU cases.

  • Take the detective's exam as soon as you become eligible. Most police departments hold yearly exams, though some may hold them more often. That gives you time to study and prepare before the exam; take advantage of the opportunity.

  • Request transfer to a Special Victims Unit once you have become a detective. Cite any qualifications you have accrued that suit you for special victims' cases.

Tips & Warnings

  • In order to become a detective of any sort, you usually need to set an exemplary record as a uniformed officer. Strive to adhere to the highest standards: arriving to work on time, not skipping days and gaining favorable reports from your superiors. Like any other promotion, a detective's position takes work to get there. Be ready to demonstrate your qualifications throughout your tenure as a patrol officer.
  • Be prepared for a grimy reality when working as a Special Victims detective: demonstrate compassion for the victims, but don't let your sympathies interfere with your ability to objectively do your job.

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