Private Detectives

What you see in the Hollywood movies may not always reflect reality. A case in point is the daily routine of a private detective or private investigator. Although the movies may portray the work as glamorous, highly stressful, and even very dangerous, most of the time the private detective is involved in collecting information that places a high premium on the ability to collect the details.

  • Primary among their role is to provide investigation expertise to companies, organizations, attorneys, and other individuals in securing specific information. A typical private detective' s case that reflects their social side of information collection may involve a marriage, a child' s custody, or a person' s identity or whereabouts. When employed by a company, the detective can be involved with insurance claims, copyright materials, and the improper use of computers for downloading information.
  • Private detectives will incorporate many methods to determine the facts in a case, including the use of computers to sift through information, physical observations and tracking, and by examining and comparing information in a methodical procedure. Data collected by a detective generally falls into two categories, public database record searching, such as court documents, telephone number listings, or motor vehicle registrations, and those provided by private informant leads.
  • A detective must always be mindful of the federal, state, and local legislation that' s in place, such as privacy laws, breaking and entering laws, and other legal issues that can affect how they proceed on an investigation. They must also know how to document evidence properly so as not to compromise its availability in a courtroom proceeding.
  • Private detectives will often specialize in their services. For example, they may focus on intellectual property theft by investigating and documenting acts of piracy, help clients stop illegal activity, and provide information intelligence for prosecution and civil court actions. Other specializations may be in developing financial asset profiles, where information is gathered through one-on-one interviews, and the researching of public records.

The exact requirements to become a private detective will typically vary from state to state. The majority, however, will require that the detective maintain a license in some form or another that will allow them to perform investigative services. In some states the private detective may simply need to obtain nothing more than a business license. Other states, however, require an extensive list, beginning with being licensed by the local police department, meeting a certain minimum age requirement (typically 18 or 21 years of age), being a legal resident of the state, having their fingerprints and photograph on file at the police department, and carrying a bond of a set monetary value as part of the license. Additional requirements may include no prior felony convictions, in addition to passing a criminal history review test. Some states require passing a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) background check. Under certain state gun laws private detectives may not be permitted to carry a concealed weapon, and where a concealed weapon is permissible, the detective may need to satisfy separate and more stringent gun carrying requirements.

Although the complexities of today' s criminal justice laws and legalities are many, private detectives are not required to have a college degree to practice their profession. In fact, they could get by with only street smarts; however, a private detective that holds a college diploma, particularly a Criminal Justice degree, undoubtedly is at an advantage for understanding the laws, the psychology, and the sociology of the public arena in which they work.

Private Eyes: Become a Private Investigator

Although glamorized on daytime television, the daily proceedings of a private investigator, or PI, can be downright dangerous, stimulating, or even tedious while researching facts online. You may work independently, contracted out on specific cases, or within an agency. From time to time, investigators are employed for personal protection or theft prevention in the retail environment. These professionals come from many different backgrounds, including law enforcement, journalism, and legal assisting careers. Most private investigators are self-employed and enjoy the benefits of working independently. If you are well organized, inquisitive, personable, and able to speak your mind fluently, this may be a good career choice for you.

There are many ways to get started as a private investigator. The majority of these professionals come from a background in law enforcement, where the familiarity of proper procedure, interviews, and evidence collection prepares them to work on their own. Other prospective investigators may have a background in law and criminal justice, insurance and fraud, or computer forensics. Many private investigation preparation courses are available online through virtual universities and independent establishments. Research each program and contact your state's professional affiliations prior to choosing one to validate the program's credibility.

There is no entry-level degree affiliated with a career in private investigation, other than a high school diploma. As a secondary career, a PI may already possess an associate or bachelor's degree within the fields of criminal justice or law. The majority of states withhold licensure based on years of experience, not the amount of formalized education. You will also need a clean record and proof of citizenship, as individuals with a history of felony or misdemeanor convictions are not eligible for licensure in the states that require this service. If you choose one of the myriad specialties in investigation, such as computer analysis, legal investigating, or background investigations, there are additional educational programs available to achieve specialty certification.

The experience and licensure requirements vary greatly by state. Some states, including Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, and Mississippi, do not regulate or license the practice of investigators within the state. However, practice may be regulated by city jurisdiction, such as in the case of Fairbanks, Alaska, where PI practice is regulated within the city limits, but not by the state. The remainder of the fifty states has rules and regulations regarding licensure, practice laws, and business laws. In some cases, you may have to register with the state police department. At the very least, you must be familiar with the limits of the law if you intend on opening an independent practice. State officials regulate licensure for you and any employees, liability insurance, surety bonds, and business operation licenses. You must also know the litigation surrounding your licensure; renewal fees and supporting education and law changes that affect licensure are your responsibility. Failure to act in accordance with state law may result in a misdemeanor crime offense. Similarly, any person claiming business as a private investigator without a licensure (in a state that requires it) can be charged with a Class I misdemeanor. Investigators working within a detective agency must hold their own license - they may not work under the lead investigator's license number.

Although private investigators are fact-finding professionals, not apprehension officers, they may be found interviewing people in unpleasant circumstances or have personal protection details. Some private investigation agencies specialize in protection only and contract out their investigators as bodyguards for events or individuals. These professionals are not required to carry weapons, although they may do so for personal safety. Check with the state legislation, as each state regulates the permits and licensure to carry concealed weapons independently. Unless you are a U.S. Marshall or carry a permit under a compact state agreement, you will need permits for each state you travel to and work within. For instance, Washington state differentiates between licensure for an armed versus an unarmed private investigator. New applicants desiring an armed PI license must sit and pass an eight-hour weapons safety course for a permit prior to applying for the armed PI license.

Aside from licensure and training, there are innate skills that will assist you in your career. This profession is independent - you must have a strong work ethic and business sense to make money as a PI. You need a modicum of communication skills, as you may spend a lot of time interviewing people and ascertaining answers from body language and verbal communication. The work environment varies greatly depending on the type of cases you take. You may sit in an office researching databases for background checks, or be out on the street on a surveillance job at midnight. The hours, benefits, degree of danger, and pay depend on your caseload and type. A PI may work for civilians, monitoring individuals for infidelity, theft, or personal security threats. Banks and businesses may contract investigators to uncover fraud, theft, or worker's compensation abuse, or to complete character profiles of employees. Attorneys and legal staff may use private investigators to locate or protect a witness or to unearth evidence. Families of missing persons sometimes employ the help of investigators to supplement search and rescue efforts. The diverse range of employment opportunities provides many different types of work as a private eye.

Professional affiliations may enhance your business as an investigator and are found at both the state and national levels. National organizations may facilitate specialty certification, as in the case of the National Association of Legal Investigators, offering the Certified Legal Investigator certificate examination. At the state level, professional organizations ban together to speak out and uphold the rights of investigators within their practice. These non-governmental organizations follow litigations concerning private investigation, facilitate forums of communications, and provide educational seminars and a network of colleagues to facilitate professional growth. The state-level groups usually promote a list of registered investigators within the state, giving prospective clients access to your contact information.

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