Many people dream of becoming a private investigator in large part to what they have read in books and seen on TV or movies. The glamorize image of a tough-as-nails PI working in back alley office and working cases with dangerous, but alluring femme fatales has become a staple of Hollywood and resonated with people around the world. Famous PIs like Sam Spade, Magnum P.I. and others have colored the way people view how someone can become a private investigator and what exactly the jobs entails. The profession has come a long way since the pulp novel days and it takes a lot to become a private investigator. I often explain to individuals interested in joining the profession to investigate before you invest in becoming a private investigator.
There are a number of ways to become a private investigator, but the first is to be properly registered with the state licensing authority. Once you have been properly registered with the state, you are legally recognized as a private investigator. With your license obtained, then you might have a shot at getting hired by a licensed investigative agency.
To become a licensed private investigator, you must meet the licensing requirements for the state in which you will be working. Check out PI Magazine’s list of links to the proper government agencies involved in licensing private investigators.
In California, the minimum requirements, according to the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Bureau of Security and Investigative Services, are:
• Be 18 or older.
• Undergo a criminal history background check through the California Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
• Have three years (2,000 hours each year, totaling 6,000 hours) of compensated experience in investigative work; or a law or police science degree plus two years (4,000 hours) of experience; or an AA degree in police science, criminal law, or justice and 2.5 years (5,000 hours) of experience.
• Pass a two-hour multiple-choice examination covering laws and regulations, terminology, civil and criminal liability, evidence handling, undercover investigations, and surveillance.
• Upon notification that you have passed the examination, you must submit a licensing fee of $175 to the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services.
There are no private investigator schools on the Planet Earth that will assist you in becoming a PI. They are essentially scams because they do not help you sit for your license, give you hours of time, or a real degree from an accredited university or college. Attending any of these so-called private investigator schools will actually set you back in the eyes of most investigative service firms. You will be competing with every law enforcement and information broker who can sit for the license because they already have the hours and the experience. Even a cop with no investigator background has a better chance than some guy who shows up with a PI school diploma.
My firm receives on average of four to five calls a week from people curious about how to become private investigators. It’s a little infuriating when they call up and ask me on the steps necessary to eventually work with me. I often advise them to consider a different career path, because if you have to call me up and ask, you don’t have the necessary investigative moxie.