By Miharu Sugie
It could be 3 a.m. or 10 p.m. The detective could be at his or her child’s birthday party, enjoying a day off. All of that no longer matters when a homicide detective gets a call. Within minutes, detectives are at the crime scene, working behind the yellow caution tape, keeping their ears to the ground and eyes wide open for any evidence that could lead to a suspect.
Until a few decades ago, it was normal to see homicide detectives at the crime scene writing reports by hand, identifying suspects with blood typing and typing out the reports on a typewriter. Now, typewriters and blood typing are replaced by technologically advanced and efficient tools. DNA testing is a standard method of identification. Even something simple as a video footage has been revolutionary in homicide investigations, according to sergeant detective Paul Donovan of the Boston Police Department’s Homicide Unit.
Being a homicide detective requires interpersonal skills and a high level of integrity, said Donovan, a seasoned Boston Police officer who joined the unit as a supervising sergeant detective from 2005 to 2009. Last year, he rejoined the unit as an administrative sergeant.
Police departments look for homicide detectives who know court personnel and court procedures and who can interact well with witnesses, the accused, victims, and the district attorney’s office. A high school diploma and professional training have always been the minimum requirement. Recently, however, that has changed.
“The level of technological skill goes well beyond the old days of just speaking to people and taking notes,” said James Alan Fox, a criminology, public policy and law professor at Northeastern University. “Now, this still happens, people take notes, but let me also say that police generally should be educated … and they trend towards more and more departments requiring a minimum of a college degree.”