How do I Become a Private Detective?

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  • Written By: Tess C. Taylor
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 22 December 2018
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A popular career in law enforcement is that of the private detective. Private detectives, or licensed private investigators, perform surveillance and investigative services for private and public clients in order to gather evidence for use by the public legal and criminal system. Many private investigators own independent companies while others work as contractors for private investigative and skip trace firms.

In order to become a private detective, or "PD," it's helpful, but not necessary to have a background in law enforcement. Getting a job as a private investigator can be as simple as taking a part-time job as an investigative assistant for a licensed investigative firm until such time you are able to get officially registered. It’s important to keep in mind that not all private investigative firms are able to offer this due to local regulations, however many are willing to train people who are interested in this line of work to help them get registered to perform the duties of private investigation.


Many successful private investigators come from prior careers in law enforcement, police work and the military. The dedication to working long hours trying to catch potential criminals in the act and then gathering physical or photographic evidence in accordance with local laws is a key quality of the private investigator. In order to become a private detective, it is important to understand how people behave and the reasons behind this behavior, so being experienced with this criminal or socially-unacceptable behavior can be a plus.

Some private detectives start out by taking coursework with a regionally approved private investigative training program. There are also online classes offered to aspiring private investigators as a convenient way to obtain the skills and learning needed to be successful in this challenging line of work. In addition, many who want to pursue a lifelong career in private investigation and law enforcement may choose to attend a police or criminal justice academy or college degree program in order to become a private detective.

In the United States, all private investigators are required to be licensed in the state in which they reside, with the exception of Colorado, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, South Dakota, and Wyoming. In addition to become a private detective, many professionals are required to obtain a license in the city of the agency worked for. It is important to check with local law enforcement agencies to inquire as to requirements before taking on clients or beginning work in private investigation to avoid breaking the law.



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