The present Polícia Judiciária originates from the Secção de Polícia Judiciária from the old Polícia Cívica. The force was founded on 2 July 1867, during the reign of Luís I of Portugal, under the name Polícia Civil. On 20 October 1945, the Polícia de Investigação Criminal changed its name to Polícia Judiciária.
The PJ is directed by a Director Nacional (National Director) and Directores Regionais (Regional Directors). There are local branches in several Portuguese cities.
The Polícia Judiciária is responsible for criminal investigation and evidence collection. There is also the unrelated Polícia Judiciária Militar, the criminal investigation military police.
In 2007 and 2008, the Polícia Judiciária dealt with the Disappearance of Madeleine McCann. The Polícia Judiciária has a rate of success of 77.43% in finding missing children, though Madeleine McCann remains missing.