AskDefine | Define gumshoe

Dictionary Definition



1 someone who is a detective [syn: dick, hawkshaw]
2 a waterproof overshoe that protects shoes from water or snow [syn: arctic, galosh, golosh, rubber]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A sneaker or rubber overshoe.
  2. A detective.

Extensive Definition

A detective is an investigator, either a member of a police agency or a private person. They may be known as private investigators (P.I.s or "Private I's", hence the play-on-words, "Private Eyes"). Informally, and primarily in fiction, a detective is any licensed or unlicensed person who solves crimes, including historical crimes, or looks into records.
Detective work typically requires a great deal of walking or "footwork", hence the slang terms "flatfoot" and "gumshoe". The term "gumshoe" refers to an inexpensive shoe with "gum rubber", soles that were believed to be quieter due to their softness, thus helping detectives operate in stealth.

Detectives and their work

Selection and training

In most American police departments, a candidate for detective must first have served as a uniformed officer for a period of one to five years. Detective is often an appointed position, rather than a position achieved by passing a written test. Prospective U.K. police detectives must have completed at least two years as a uniformed officer before applying to join the Criminal Investigation Department.
In many other European police systems, most detectives are university graduates who join directly from civilian life without first serving as uniformed officers. Some people argue that detectives do a completely different job and therefore require completely different training, qualifications, qualities and abilities than uniformed officers. The opposing argument is that without previous service as a uniformed patrol officer, a detective cannot have a great enough command of standard police procedures and problems and will find it difficult to work with uniformed colleagues.
Additionally, in some U.S. police departments, policies exist that limit the term that an officer may serve continuously as a detective, and mandate that detectives must regularly return to patrol duties for a minimum period of time. This is based upon a perception that the most important and essential police work is accomplished on patrol, and that the skills, experience and familiarity with their beats that patrol officers maintain are essential for detectives to maintain as well. Investigations, by contrast, often take weeks or months to complete, during which time detectives may spend much of their time away from the streets. In this thinking, rotating officers also promotes cross-training in a wider variety of skills, producing both better detectives and uniformed officers. Such policies also serve to prevent "cliques" within detective bureaus that can contribute to corruption or other unethical behavior.
Detectives obtain their position by competitive examination covering such subjects as principles, practices and procedures of investigation; interviewing and interrogation; criminal law and procedures; applicable law governing arrests, search and seizures, warrants and evidence; police department records and reports; principles, practices and objectives of courtroom testimony; and police department methods and procedures.
Private detectives in the U.S. are licensed by the state in which they live after passing a competitive examination and a criminal background check. Some states, such as Maryland, require a period of classroom training and must have experience with a weapon as well [Citation Needed].


The detective branch in most larger police agencies is organized into several squads or departments, each of which specializes in investigation into a particular type of crime or a particular type of undercover operation, which may include: homicide; robbery; motor vehicle theft; organized crime; fraud; burglary; narcotics; vice; forgery; criminal intelligence; sex crimes; street crime; computer crime; crimes against children; surveillance; and arson, among others.


Street work

Detectives have a wide variety of techniques available in conducting investigations. However, the majority of cases are solved by the interrogation of suspects and the interviewing of witnesses, which takes time. Besides interrogations, detectives may rely on a network of informants they have cultivated over the years. Informants often have connections with persons a detective would not be able to approach formally. Evidence collection and preservation can also help in identifying a potential suspect(s).
In criminal investigations, once a detective has suspects in mind, the next step is to produce evidence that will stand up in a court of law. The best way is to obtain a confession from the suspect; usually, this is done by developing rapport and at times by seeking information in exchange for potential perks available through the District Attorney's Office, such as entering plea bargain for a lesser sentence in exchange for usable information. Detectives may lie, mislead and psychologically pressure a suspect into an admission or confession as long as they do this within procedural boundaries and without the threat of violence or promises outside their control. In the United States suspects may invoke their Fifth Amendment rights and refuse to answer any investigative questions until they consult with an attorney.

Forensic evidence

Physical forensic evidence in an investigation may provide leads to closing a case. Forensic science (often shortened to forensics) is the application of a broad spectrum of sciences to answer questions of interest to the legal system. This may be in relation to a crime or to a civil action.
The use of the term "forensics" in place of "forensic science" is (in a literal sense) incorrect; the term "forensic" is effectively a synonym for "legal" or "related to courts" (from Latin, it means "before the forum") and applies equally well to studies such as "forensics clubs" that practice formal debate. However, the single word is now so closely associated with the scientific field that many dictionaries include the meaning given here. Many major police departments in a city, county, or state, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, maintain their own forensic laboratories.

Records investigation

Detectives may use public and private records to provide background information on a subject. Police detectives can search through files of fingerprint records. In the United States, the FBI maintains records of people who have committed felonies and some misdemeanors, all persons who have applied for a Federal security clearance, and all persons who have served in the U.S. armed forces. As well, detectives may search through records of criminal arrests and convictions, photographs or mug shots, of persons arrested, and motor vehicle records.
With a warrant, police detectives can also search through Credit card records and bank statements, hotel registration information, credit reports, Answer machine messages, and phone conversations. Search warrants are not needed if the detective can obtain a National Security Letter (NSL) from the FBI or other federal agency. These are generally issued without significant oversight or probable cause.

Court testimony

Unless a plea bargain forestalls the need for a trial, detectives must testify in court about their investigation. They must seem reliable and credible to a jury, and must not give the impression of personal vindictiveness or cruelty. A detective's background often comes into question in courtroom testimony. A famous example came in the murder trial of O.J. Simpson, when Detective Mark Fuhrman of the Los Angeles Police Department testified for the prosecution. Attorney F. Lee Bailey first asked Fuhrman if he had ever used the "n-word". Fuhrman denied this. In court, Bailey produced taped interviews with Fuhrman using this offensive word.

Famous fictional detectives

The detective story has been a popular genre in literature and the performing arts since Edgar Allan Poe gave birth to it with his stories of master French detective C. Auguste Dupin in the mid-19th century. Arthur Conan Doyle's 19th-century character Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie's 20th-century creations Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple are perhaps the most famous detectives in fiction. In many police drama series, detectives are depicted as being something of an elite class, with most uniformed police officers deferring to them. Most famous fictional government detectives work for local or regional agencies.
In the 20th century, "hard-boiled" private detective characters such as Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe and Mike Hammer became enormously popular. Elements of detective work were also featured in famous "federal" characters, such as Ian Fleming's James Bond (the first two Bond film adaptations featured more investigative work than their successors) and Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan. Meanwhile, in comics, Dick Tracy served as the archetypal police detective. In the Die Hard series of films, Bruce Willis' character John McClane is a NYPD Detective. Famed DC Comics character Batman was also created around this time, who emphasized less on great physical strength and abilities (like Superman) and more on the human condition, including solving crimes as a detective. One of Batman's nicknames is "The World's Greatest Detective."
In the video game Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, the protagonist (Max Payne) is a police detective.
In manga and anime, Kindaichi Case Files, Death Note and Detective Conan feature well known detectives.
Dick Wolf's Law & Order franchise of television series are a modern example of the detective genre, following detectives through the investigation of various crimes.
Diagnosis Murder is also another example of recent fictional detectives in other roles, for example, Dr. Mark Sloan, Chief of Internal Medicine at Community General Hospital frequently is seen solving crimes with other members of his staff, namely Dr. Amanda Bentley (Pathologist) and formerly Dr. Jack Stewart along with Dr. Sloan's son, in the LAPD Homicide Dept; Lieutenant Steve Sloan. Dr. Sloan is a criminal medical consultant to the Los Angeles Police Department.
Perhaps the most well-known fictional detective to the younger generation of today is Nancy Drew, an amateur sleuth. There is a number of book series about this teen hero, all under the pen name of Carolyn Keene.
In the popular Ace Attorney video game series for the Nintendo DS, the detective Dick Gumshoe makes an appearance in three of the four games.
John Shaft is a popular African-American private detective character, appearing in a book and various movies made based on the book character.
Veronica Mars is a popular female teenage private investigator in training solving crimes in her hometown of Neptune, CA. Kristen Bell appears in three seasons of Veronica Mars created by Rob Thomas.
For more information on the detectives in France, visit:
gumshoe in Czech: Detektiv
gumshoe in German: Ermittlung (Strafverfahrensrecht)
gumshoe in Spanish: Detective
gumshoe in French: Détective
gumshoe in Indonesian: Detektif
gumshoe in Malay (macrolanguage): Detektif
gumshoe in Dutch: Detective (beroep)
gumshoe in Japanese: 探偵
gumshoe in Korean: 탐정
gumshoe in Polish: Detektyw
gumshoe in Portuguese: Detetive (profissão)
gumshoe in Russian: Детектив (профессия)
gumshoe in Simple English: Detective
gumshoe in Serbian: Детектив
gumshoe in Thai: นักสืบ
gumshoe in Vietnamese: Thám tử
gumshoe in Ukrainian: Детектив
gumshoe in Yiddish: דעטעקטיוו
gumshoe in Chinese: 侦探

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Dogberry, John Law, Sherlock, Sherlock Holmes, beagle, bluecoat, bobby, bull, cop, copper, couch, crawl, creep, dick, eye, flatfoot, flattie, fuzz, gendarme, go on tiptoe, grovel, gumshoe man, hawkshaw, heat, inch, inch along, investigator, lay wait, lie in wait, lurk, nightwalk, officer, pad, peeler, pig, plainclothesman, police officer, private eye, prowl, pussyfoot, scrabble, scramble, shadow, shamus, shirk, sidle, skip tracer, skulk, sleuth, sleuthhound, slink, slip, snake, sneak, spotter, stalk, steal, steal along, tec, the cops, the fuzz, the law, tippytoe, tiptoe, worm, worm along
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