The private investigator (P.I.) has been portrayed in fiction as an underpaid, unkempt individual who works in a cluttered, smoky office in a low-rent part of town. With a cluttered desk and no secretary or receptionist to answer the phones, this hero single-handedly tracks down information, sometimes with false credentials and pretenses, tails suspects, and looks for clues others might have overlooked—all in hopes of righting some wrong.
In today’s world, the P.I. has assignments that involve background checks, public records searches, verifying information about individuals and companies, along with the job description of the fictional investigator.
Most states have licensing laws applicable to private investigation. The exceptions are Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota. States without licensing requirements often have counties or cities which locally dictate criteria that must be met in order to practice in that area. The only other requirements are being 18 years of age, having no criminal record, and being of sound mind.
There are no educational requirements for this profession. A two-year or four-year degree in some criminal justice area is expected in most P.I. firms. Since they offer a wide array of services to their clients, they employ professionals with knowledge and experience who can fill each area of the firm’s expertise.
Few colleges or universities offer courses on campus. They do, however, offer degrees through online courses or in-home education packages consisting of books and DVDs. The best part about these courses is the ability to complete them at home and outside a structured schedule. Most assign actual investigations to be completed by the student: conduct a background and criminal history check, vehicle surveillance, find missing persons, license plate tracing, and telephone call tracing. The average time to complete these programs ranges from three to six months.
Special P.I. schools cover core subjects for the beginner or aspiring agent to achieve a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice with a major in computer crimes, crime scene investigation, corrections, forensic psychology, homeland security, juvenile justice system, or law enforcement. The Master of Science allows for majors in corrections, global issues, law, executive management, or policing. A few offer a database used to list their graduates and affirm their credentials via networking.
Continuing education for the P.I. is found in seminars hosted by schools, and local and federal agencies. From simple certification programs to four-year degrees, there remains an ongoing need for investigator training to keep abreast of the changes in system regulations and requirements, and to ensure that they are on top of technology to assist in the often tedious elements of their jobs.
Whether it’s a desire to work for a private investigation agency, security firm, or corporate legal department, private investigator training is where to begin. Whether you work in insurance fraud, retail security, conduct investigations, prepare reports, or testify in court, studying to be private investigators will open doors that lead to a profession where the reward is in righting the wrongs done to mankind.