What does a Federal Criminal Investigator do?

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  • Written By: Erin Oxendine
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 03 February 2020
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A federal criminal investigator is an investigator who enforces laws and solves crimes for a federal agency. Most agencies assign officers to investigate criminal areas such as terrorism, money laundering and immigrations. Investigators work with various agencies including local, state and federal divisions.

When a federal criminal investigator gets a case, he or she reviews case documents and searches for pieces of evidence. The investigator will also identify witnesses to the criminal activity. Other tasks include finding possible informants, drafting subpoenas for experts and requesting warrants to search locations.

A big part of being a federal criminal investigator is participating in surveillance and working in undercover operations. An investigator may be have to infiltrate a large drug trafficking ring and pretend to be a drug dealer to gain access to the group. When the investigator is conducting surveillance, this may take place over a period of several days or weeks. The agent may have to watch a suspect's house or canvass a neighborhood and record any events that take place.

Other responsibilities the federal criminal investigator performs are arresting and processing people accused of committing a crime. After the investigator arrests an alleged criminal, the investigator has to fingerprint the person and record the individual's physical information. The agent also has to photograph the suspect for a mug shot and then enter all the information into the file.


Investigators must analyze crime scenes and tag evidence at the scene. One of the duties the federal criminal investigator has to do is review fingerprints that are found at the scene with fingerprints in a national computer database. The agent has to see if the alleged criminal may be linked to other crimes already entered into the system.

Sometimes a federal criminal investigator may have to give testimony in court about activities seen while undercover. The agent may have to answer questions from attorneys and the judge regarding the alleged incident. The judge may also ask the investigator to identify certain exhibits in order to enter these into evidence.

Federal criminal investigators also work on kidnapping and missing person cases. When someone is reported missing, an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) assists local law enforcement authorities in organizing search parties and gathering details about what happened. If the person has been kidnapped, the agent will try to find the kidnapper and interview the victim's friends and family. The federal agent may have to negotiate with the kidnappers and arrange a meeting to get the hostage.

In order to be a federal criminal investigator, agents need a degree in criminal justice or a related field. Some agents have additional training in forensic science and criminal profiling. Most departments also prefer to hire federal criminal investigators who have several years of experience in law enforcement.


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