AFAICT, the men selected as detectives are policemen with experience who have demonstrated crime-solving skills while in uniform. A person named as a detective on a police force is generally considered to have a rank of sergeant or better on the force.
Also remember that in any profession similar to the military, to police, etc., there needs to be someone in charge of each individual operation they undertake. That person is answerable to higher authority, to be sure, but all those involved in the operation answer to him. Doesn’t it make sense that in a major-crime investigation, the detective who has the specialized training and demonstrated skills be the person put in charge?
If you hire someone with a specific skill, it makes sense to defer to them even if you nominally outrank them. If detectives have expertise in criminal investigation, you’d expect uniformed police to listen to them, regardless of rank.
Each and every department has its’ own command chain. So there are a billion answers to the OP.
Most depatments have the Detective in a seperate unit, but there is still a department wide command chain, in which they outline the list of rank. Most will have a Detective outranking a patrolman, and a patrol sergeant, but not a patrol Lieutenant. Once again, it depends.
There are some departments that I know of where “Detective” is an assignment, not a rank. The person is equal to a patrolman, just does different duties in plain clothes.
That, however, is not the norm.
In some departments Detectives still occassionally do patrol work, in uniform. It’s times like this where the chain of command can get murky. The patrol Sgt. in charge of the shift certainly doesn’t want someone from the dick bureau blowing him off just because he’s working a uniform shift but has a higher rank! The department I retired from last July had this. The written policy was whomever was the shift OIC was in charge of everyone on the shift, regardless of rank. To the best of my knowledge there was never any problems with that rule (i.e. no pissing contests).
If it is a police department large enough to have ranks like sergeant, lieutenant, and captain, then the detectives will also hold those ranks. A detective sergeant will outrank a plain police officer, but not a non-detective captain.
Just watching “The First 48” can be a kind of education in how different departments are. I don’t remember ever seeing a Memphis homicide detective who wasn’t at least a sergeant. Detroit seems to have a grab bag of ranks in Homicide, and so forth. Some departments seem to have a pretty rigid policy that the lead detective on the case sticks with it to the end, others seem to bop the case around depending on shifts. Personally I’d love to hear more about this from pkbites, Loach, and others with hands on experience.
That’s been my experience here, too. Detectives, who are almost always in plainclothes, can boss around patrolmen and -women (the lowest rank of uniformed police officers) when they’re actually at crime scenes, but usually won’t. They know what their respective responsibilities are and usually have more of a team approach, I think. A detective who tried to pull rank on a uniformed lieutenant, captain, etc. would get his head bitten off pretty quickly, and it wouldn’t help his career either.
It’s true. Every one is different, though many are similar.
One department I know of the lowest rank is “patrolman” and the next rank up is “police officer”, though both do the exact same work, and the police officer has no authority over the patrolman. It’s just a title to indicate seniority. Another has ranks like: police officer 1, policer officer 2, police officer 3, Sergeant, Lieutenant, etc… And some have Corporals.
I’ve observed that some State Police departments tend to stick a little more closely to military type rankings, having Colonels, Commanders, etc…
There was one department where the chief left without much notice and the P&F Commission named a Sergeant as officer in charge until a new Chief was selected.
That meant a Segeant had authority over Captains. Strange, huh?
I work on a police department that has around 95 personnel in a town of about 60,000. Patrolman is the lowest rank. At 15 years you automatically become a senior patrolman (5% pay increase, corporal stripes). Anytime over 5 years you can attempt to be selected for sergeant. Then there are lieutenants, captains and the chief. Detective is not a promotion. It is a lateral move. Just a change in duty assignment. Detective is the same as patrolman (or senior patrolman depending on the length of service). A detective can not order around a patrolman but they do get handed control of crime scenes. At serious crime scenes there will be a sergeant or above anyway. The detectives also have sergeants and LTs. In fact in many ways it is a hardship and not an honor to become a detective. It looks good for promotion down the road (a better rounded career) but the schedule is better on patrol and there is more opportunity to make extra money. The patrol schedule lends itself better to working construction and other extra jobs that come up. Sometimes they have a hard time filling the dective slots and there tends to be a lot of new guys doing it. All of the departments in my area are the same.
The general convention is that detectives and/or investigators are specialized police officers. In terms of pay, they usually make more than the uniformed officers, but less than the sergeants. In terms of rank, detectives rank below sergeants.
That’s not how it worked with us. The Deets outranked a patrol Sergeant and got paid more.
But like I said, every department is different.
Since retiring I took a job with another agency, part-time. Their structure is almost identical to the one I was on for over 2 decades, EXCEPT we have an Inspector (just one) who has duties that on any other agency would be called "Deputy Chief’.
Then come the senior ranks where there is no distinction. Normally Assistant Chief Constable, Deputy Chief Constable, Chief Constable but the Metropolitan (London) police is headed by a Commissioner (as is the City of London force) and adds in Commanders to the senior ranks.
As I understand it a Detective Sergeant does not outrank a uniformed Sergeant and they are in different command chains but I would not be surprised to find a situation where a Detective, as the specialist investigating a crime, would assign duties to a number of uniformed officers supporting the investigating team.
I should have added that for us it is not a permenant postion. Some stay as a detective for a year or two. Some stay there for many years. Some bounce around between the different detective divisions, general investigations, vice, juvenile… All lateral moves.
That certainly seems to be the case in the Helen Mirren Prime Suspect movies, which from all I’ve read have been generally praised for their accuracy in showing British police procedure. DCI Tennison rules!
Wow, great responses, I had no idea at the differences. Thanks, guys ! Also, I read somewhere, maybe here, that Police Chiefs in some states sometimes don’t have power to arrest someone, basically it’s just a political office position. Is that true?
Generally speaking, a police chief is a civil servant and has only the police power granted to him by legislative or regulatory authority.
Generally speaking a county sheriff is a constitutional office holder and holds power derived from the state constitution. A sheriff’s authority cannot be taken away by the local government.
So, usually, a sheriff has much more power than a police chief.
Most of the time, where there is a police department in operation, the sheriff will allow the police to handle routine patrol and arrest duties. When a county is completely covered by police departments, a sheriff will usually just handle court and jail operations. But, being a constitutional officer, the sheriff always has the power to patrol and arrest; that can’t be taken away from him by a police department.