How Do I Become a Private Investigator?
In the movies, a private investigator sits in a dingy office, chain smoking, drinking lousy coffee and making wisecrack remarks to his assistant until a prospective client walks through the door. In real life, a PI is just as likely to be solving crimes sitting in front of a computer as by pounding the pavement, working with law enforcement agents, or sneaking up on people and taking furtive photographs while wearing gumshoes.
Private investigators do a lot more than dig up dirt on cheating spouses. They find missing persons, conduct background checks for companies on prospective employees, investigate computer crimes, insurance fraud and other white collar crimes, and they verify peoples' documentation. There are some things a private investigator really can't do, such as break the law, hack into phones or computers, and act like action heroes.
Insurance fraud is a major niche for private investigators. People illegitimately file claims for disability and other compensation for injuries at work or on private property. These people take funding away from those who really need it. You may be required to investigate someone who is claiming they can't get out of bed, when actually they are down at the bowling alley or tennis courts once or twice a week.
Private investigators also get to work with a lot of cool equipment. A list of PI gear that you keep in your surveillance vehicle might include:
- Video camera for surveillance and documentation
- Audio recorder for taking detailed notes or recording interviews and statements
- Tripod or monopod for taking steady photographs and videos
- A power converter that plugs into your car's cigarette lighter
- Car desk for when you aren't working at home
- Laptop computer
- Video editing software
- Spy cameras
- Measuring tape/measuring wheel
- Night vision scope for seeing better at night
- Thermal camera
How does someone become a private investigator?
Most private investigators have a high school diploma and several years of work experience. Most states require private investigators and detectives to have a license.
There are several pathways to becoming a private investigator. An internship with a PI firm can give you experience at searching for information, practice at surveillance techniques, schooling on how to perform telephone pretexts, edit surveillance video and become acquainted with that particular agency's way of doing things. Interns often go on to become employed by the company they have been interning for, or even pick up a job with a competing agency.
Getting a criminal justice degree
Another option is to pursue a Criminal Justice degree. If you enroll in a program with a year-round program, within just two and a half years, you could find yourself working as a private investigator. If that doesn't turn out the way you expect, a criminal justice degree will give you other marketable skills and prepare you to work for:
- Law enforcement agencies
- Homeland security
- Border protection
- Fraud investigations
- Public and private security
How can formal education be an asset to an individual PI?
The curriculum of a criminal justice degree is designed to give students an understanding of:
- Court structure and the legal system
- Principles of security and surveillance
- Law enforcement policies and procedures
- Technology to investigate, track, solve, and prevent crime
Remaining in formal education once you complete your basic criminal justice degree will enhance your authority in the field. Enhancing your authority often will have the natural consequence of increasing your paycheck.
How can formal education in benefit the PI profession?
Knowledge begets knowledge, and your continuing education as a private investigator will have reciprocal benefits to the industry itself. By continually learning from recognized experts and keeping up to date with developments in investigative technology, laws, and methods, you will be helping the profession as a whole to maintain the highest standards of practice. You may even find yourself teaching classes and imparting your own wisdom to eager students.
What is the first step in becoming a private investigator?
Are you interested in becoming a private investigator? If you want to earn a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice, consider ECPI University for your education. With accelerated courses and a year-round schedule, you could earn your degree faster. For more information about this exciting program, connect with an admissions advisor today.
It could be the Best Decision You Ever Make!
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Gainful Employment Information – Criminal Justice - Bachelor’s