How To Become A Private Investigator

Private investigation is a very respected and necessary field that has very much evolved in the past ten years. Presently, they are recognized as contractors for other fields such as law enforcement, cyber crime, surveillance and human resources. Their services are broad and can touch upon subjects such as investigating infidelity or missing people.

Private investigators tend to be employed by private investigator agencies, but some will opt to work as freelance PIs. They typically work on a contract basis in both public and private sectors, and they are typically required to be licensed by the state in order to conduct any type of surveillance or investigation.

Requirements of said licensure will depend from state to state, but most often than not all licensure will follow a specific outline:

Step 1. Learn About State Licensure

PI regulations and licensure are regulated by a variety of state agencies. Texas licenses for PIs are regulated by the Private Security Board within the Texas Department of Public Safety, while Tennessee licenses are regulated by the Private Investigative and Polygraph Commission – which is also a part of the Department of Commerce and Insurance. States that do not require licensure like Wyoming, Alaska and Alabama, will often implement their own kind of regulations or requirements in some of their cities/jurisdictions. Take for example Alabama; although no license is required, some major areas like Birmingham, Montgomery and Mobile will implement their own kind of licensing processes anyway. Even state without any type of license requirements whatsoever will still require a person to have a business license if they desire to open up their own agency.

Some state opt to enter into reciprocity agreements. This allows PIs to conduct business between two or more states without having to attain a separate PI’s license (provided that the investigation is started in the PI’s home state).

Below is a list of the states that allow their PIs to follow reciprocity agreements:

North Carolina

Due to the fact that PIs are required to adhere to state procedures, PI education requirements, training requirements, and minimum requirements for licensure will all be different.

Step 2. Meet Minimum Requirements for Licensure

Not everyone is going to be allowed to become a private investigator. The minimum requirements for licenser will vary from state to state, typically candidates will be required to be at lest 21 and 25 years of age at the time of application.

Below is a list of some of the minimum requirements that a candidate might face:

  • Be a United States citizen or legal U.S. resident
  • Possess a high school diploma or GED certificate
  • Have no felony convictions or other convictions involving crimes of moral turpitude
  • Have no dishonorable discharge from the U.S. military

Step 3. Meet Education and Experience Requirements

The largest difference between state will lie in the education and experience requirements. Most states will not demand that PIs posses a specific education, but most PIs will seek an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in a criminal justice related field anyway. This equips them with working knowledge of the criminal justice system and other types of law enforcement practices.

The most important requirement for licensure will be experience. Many states will even allow for experience to stand in place of education. In New Hampshire, the experience requirement will be an accumulative four years – but some PIs will opt to acquire an associate’s or bachelor’s degree and have that stand in place for the four year experience requirement.

PI experience can be acquired through working as an adjuster, risk manager, claims investigator, director of security for a company, director for a licensed security service, or as a law enforcement officer for a federal, state or local police department.

Step 4. Pass the State Exam for Licensure

There are some states that will require that candidates pass a state exam prior to licensure. These are called state jurisprudence examinations, and they are typically taken after filing for a state license, and are used to assess candidates on laws and procedural protocols specific to the state that they will hold employment.

Exams cover things like rules and regulations regarding working as a PI, or operating a PI agency.

Step 5. Obtain Mandatory Firearms Training

Some state will allow for PIs to carry firearms. In these states candidates have to complete a mandatory firearms training course in order to become certified to carry said firearm. A lot of states will allow their future PIs to be trained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Rifle Association, SIG Sauer, Smith & Wesson, or through any other accredited police-type standard firearms instructor academy.

Step 6. Apply for State Licensure

The last step in the licensure process is to apply for a state licensure.This is when candidates will be required to provide the state licensing department with the following paperwork:

  • A notarized application
  • A full set of fingerprints for a comprehensive background investigation
  • Personal and professional references
  • Documentation regarding professional experience
  • Documentation and/or diplomas regarding education
  • Proof of a surety bond (Most states require private investigators to hold a surety bond of no less than $10,000.)
  • An application fee, license feel, fingerprint fee, and background investigation fee

Step 7. Maintain State Licensure

No matter what state you’re in, PIs will most often then not be required to renew their licensure – most states requiring a biennial renewal. PIs should also expect to undergo an updated background check and provide the state licensing department with a copy of their current surety bond (if they own their own PI agency).