In books and movies and on television, private investigators are heroes who fight the bad guys, recover the loot, and win the heart of the beautiful woman. In real-life they aren’t quite as glamorous as they’re portrayed by Hollywood, but becoming a private investigator is a good job choice for someone interested in a career in criminal justice.
Why Private Investigation?
Historically, private investigators appeared on the scene because initially police departments were cost prohibitive. So industrious private individuals perceived a niche they could fill. Private investigators first appeared in France, then the United Kingdom, and shortly thereafter in the United States. Most of them were former detectives, who had learned their skills as detectives on big city police forces.
Although some people viewed them as competition to authorized law enforcement agencies, in reality there were not. Even the U.S. government recognized their usefulness and contracted with the Pinkerton National Detective Agency for protective and investigative functions. The Pinkerton Agency provided valuable services for government agencies and large corporations, including the railroads.
Who Do Private Investigators Work For?
In today’s world, private investigators work for many different clients. Some investigators are specialists, while others provide general investigative functions. Examples of specialists would be in the areas of forensic accounting or forensic computer investigations.
The primary function of private investigators is to gather pertinent information and discover facts. This function is accomplished by a variety of methods, including computer searches, surveillance, interviews, and undercover work, as well as preparing reports, conducting background checks, and assisting in locating people.
Private investigators work for security consulting firms, private corporations, law firms, and occasionally, individuals. In the course of their investigations, private investigators must operate with definite legal boundaries because the information they gather could later be used in a criminal investigation. Therefore, as with any other member of the law enforcement community, they must follow established rules when it comes to gathering and processing evidence.
Private Investigator Careers
Becoming a private investigator does not require a college or university degree. However, many successful private investigators earned a college degree in criminal justice. Relevant work experience as a police officer or as a loss-prevention specialist provides training in proper procedures and investigative skills.
In most states, private investigators are required to be licensed. The requirements vary from state to state, but some states require attending investigative courses or schools, testing, and a background investigation. Furthermore, a permit to carry a concealed weapon may be necessary.
Those aspiring to be private investigators should demonstrate excellent interpersonal skills and be able to analyze and evaluate evidence. Writing skills are also important, as are the ability to think rapidly under pressure and resolve problems.
The employment outlook for private investigators is better than average. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics expects careers in private investigations to grow at a rate of 21 percent through 2020. The healthy rate of growth is based on a projected increase in demand for security services, employment background investigations, and forensic computer services. The average salary for private investigators is $50,000 per year. Those at the top of the profession make in excess of $75,000 per year.