Individuals, businesses, or lawyers hire private investigators to obtain a variety of information. An attorney may hire a private investigator to find out more about a company’s financial background, for instance, while an individual may want to know something as personal as whether or not a spouse is being loyal. The variety of private investigation work is huge: celebrity protection, personal background checks, computer crime, personal harassment, copyright infringement, insurance fraud, child custody, and missing person cases are all potential jobs for a private investigator. Sometimes a private investigator will specialize in a certain field, such as insurance fraud.
A certificate program in private investigations will provide the legal and methodological training you need without a degree. PI certificates are available through online and campus-based programs offered at private universities and career schools, dedicated PI academies, community, and state colleges. The typical certificate classes may include principles of investigation, applied investigative practices, and investigation resources. Courses may cover different aspects of the courts and the legal system, practices of civil and criminal case investigation and preparation, various investigative specialties and the latest industry trends.
Certificate programs are a cost-effective means to expand your knowledge of different aspects of your PI work. For example, a Legal Investigation Certificate will qualify you to assist attorneys, paralegals, insurance companies and private businesses, as well as state and federal government agencies, in the process of civil and criminal investigation. You can learn about arson investigation, product liability investigation, personal injury and traffic accident forensics, employment accidents, investigation of financial, and equity matters. Other classes deal with professional malpractice and negligence, skip-tracing, and the role of a legal investigator in preparing for civil and criminal litigation. All this for less than $1,000!
Certificates will provide the skills to enter the profession, but you may want to earn an associate’s degree. A degree always looks impressive on your credentials you hand to prospective clients. One degree option is an Associate of Applied Science in Law Enforcement. Within two years, you will learn critical thinking, current law enforcement technology, and theory in entry-level positions in law enforcement and private security. Some of these online degrees are only 21-27 credit hours. Upon graduation, your practical skills include crime scene investigation, evidence handling and processing, interviews and interrogations, and administrative procedures. All vital for your role as a PI.
A Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice will provide a background in law, behavioral sciences, the political process, crime analysis, corrections, and many other related topics. Whether you enroll in an online or campus program, this degree is costly and lengthy. However, it may improve your status as a private investigator, which could result in more work. In addition, your employer’s requirements could influence your need to earn an undergraduate degree in law enforcement or criminal justice. If you are self-employed, as 25% of PI’s are, then the degree may not be necessary.
While college programs geared specifically for private investigation are limited, there are a number of educational options. Coursework in criminal justice, law, and police science forms a good foundation for the career. Private investigators hoping to work for larger clients, like corporations, will most likely need at least a bachelor’s degree or even a law degree. Computer science can be another useful educational path, especially for those hoping to specialize in computer forensics. Those with prior experience in law enforcement might have an easier time breaking into the field. Certificate programs in private investigation are also available.
Before you eliminate the need for a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, check the state laws where you plan to practice as a PI. For example, to be licensed in Nevada, you require 5 years or 10,000 hours of investigative experience before applying to the Private Investigator’s Licensing Board. If you have a bachelor’s degree in CJ, the requirement is 18 months (3,000 hours).
Another example is Florida, which requires two years experience before you can apply for licensure as a Class CC Private Investigator Intern. Prior to applying for the intern license, you must complete at least 40 hours of professional private investigator training. Additionally, you can substitute one year of college coursework in law enforcement, criminology or criminal justice (or a related field) for one of the two-year experience requirement for a Class C Private Investigator license in Florida. Only five states do not have licensing requirements. Further, a select number of states allow private investigators to carry weapons; as such, mandatory firearms training, certification, and certification renewal are commonplace.
The job of being a Private Investigator sounds glamorous. In reality, it entails long hours, seeking new clients, working within the constraints of the laws, and is not a lucrative profession. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median salary for PIs at $48,190 as of May 2016. Furthermore, despite how television portrays the job, most PIs can do no more than a citizen can when it comes to surveillance, for example. PrivateInvestigatorEDU.org sees the challenge as being “creative instead of being obvious.”
These organizations are excellent resources for additional information on Private and Legal Investigators: