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How to Become a Detective without being a Police Officer

How to Become a Detective without being a Police Officer

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Brian Humenuk | Author | COPJOT.

By Brian Humenuk, MS|CJA, COPJOT

Updated on August 4, 2022

⏱️ 6 minute read

You can become a detective without being a Police Officer by completing a combination of college-level coursework while building a work history in the criminal justice field. as well as following this ultimate guide to being a Private Investigator.

Valuable information awaits you in this article on how to become a detective without being a Police Officer.

You will gain insight and valuable information on the type of resume that you must be building as well as read first-hand Pro Tips on what you should be doing now to build the pillars of your resume to show that you have what it takes to become a Private Investigator..

What is a Private Detective?

A private detective, sometimes called a private investigator or Private Eye, is a person who is hired privately to provide investigative services under a professional license.

Private Investigators are independent civilian investigators hired by individuals or organizations dealing with civil or criminal matters that require surveillance, documentation, research, or interviews in order to provide evidence in legal, criminal, or business investigations.

Conducting private investigations using software, gadgetry, training, education, and experience and operating under a private investigator license the investigator will be able to provide you with information and or documentation that you are willing to pay for. 

Is Being a Private Investigator a good career?

Yes, being a Private Investigator can be a good career if you like to do research, enjoy a slow-paced environment, can self-manage work tasks, and tracking down people and information brings you personal fulfillment.

Problem Solver

Helping solve people's problems that sometimes weigh them down heavily can bring satisfaction especially if you are in a niche where you find missing persons or missing property.

Be Independent or Run a Business

Besides private investigations you may need to be able to run many aspects of a business like advertising, retaining clients, email and phone calls, budgeting and book keeping.

Many private investigators are self employed or work with a partner.

Accept a Challenge

People pursue Private Investigator careers for a variety of reasons. Some love the challenge of uncovering information and piecing it together in a way that connects circumstances that others may not are able to or have been able to figure out.

Many people view an investigative career as a  progression of their military service or law enforcement experience. Others see a PI job as an interesting way to supplement their income or continue to work part time as a post retirement career.

Diversity and Continued Learning

Due to the nature of investigative work, you may find yourself working in diverse fields that range from corporate clients to law enforcement collaboration. If you enjoy learning new skills and information, being a Private Investigator is right up your alley.

Employment Facts and Job Outlook in the Private Investigation Field

Employment Facts: Private Investigators / Detectives
2021 Median Pay $59,380 per year
$28.55 per hour
Entry Level Education High School Diploma or equivalent
Number of jobs, 2021 37,000
Job outlook, 2021 6%, average
Employment change, 2021 + 2,100
U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics


How does a Private Investigator work?

Private investigators may concentrate their careers on finding missing persons, performing background checks, performing investigative services, or conducting marital investigations.

Private investigators may work alongside law enforcement personnel or official law enforcement during criminal investigations, or they may work as skip tracers alongside bail bondsmen or bounty hunters.

They may also specialize in uncovering insurance fraud, finding missing children or finding information pertinent to settling civil matters.

Finally, private investigators may work in a more general capacity, providing a wide array of investigative services to clients such as insurance companies, banks, and law firms.

Regardless of the area or industry in which they work, private investigators follow a strict set of standards, which are generally dictated by state law.

Many private investigators are members of state professional investigator associations, which also require them to work under local laws, a set of bylaws and a code of ethics.

What is the main purpose of a private investigator?

Private investigators must have a keen eye, excellent observation skills, and be able to practice patience. Often referred to as private detectives, these professionals use a number of surveillance and investigative techniques to gather accurate information on the subject or situation in question.


Most Private investigators are licensed to practice in the state in which they work, and may either work full time as employees or be contracted to work with private detective firms, police departments, private businesses, and organizations.


Private Detective and Investigator areas of Specialty 

Although the services they provide may differ depending on the case or industry in which they work, their skill sets are often very similar, as they are called upon to uncover facts and evidence, analyze information, and provide their clients with the results of their investigation.

Regardless of the career path or niche a private investigator chooses, their talents lie in being able to gather and analyze information. This may include:

  • Civil Investigation

  • Criminal Investigation

  • Conduct Surveillance
  • Investigative business administration

  • Criminology and behavioral sciences

  • Terrorism and intelligence

  • Insurance claims investigation
  • Investigative law and ethics
  • Special victims/child abuse/nursing homes

  • Consulting or giving second opinions
  • Security

  • Computer forensics/Internet

  • Insurance investigation

  • Is it a good idea to become a private investigator?

How do you train to become a Private Investigator?

You can train to become a Private Investigator by focusing on becoming educated with an associate degree or bachelor's degree, building your work history, attending private training, and gaining knowledge of the licensing requirements.

Below I talk more about each one of these and their importance in your job search.


Education requirements vary greatly with the job, but most jobs require a high school diploma. Some, though, may require a 2 or 4 year degree in a field such as criminal justice from an accredited university.


    Private detectives and investigators typically need several years of work experience and a high school diploma. In addition, the vast majority of states require private detectives and investigators to have a license.

    Work experience

    Private detectives and investigators must typically have previous work experience, usually in law enforcement, the military, or federal intelligence. Those in such jobs, who are frequently able to retire after 20 or 25 years of service, may become private detectives or investigators in a second career.

    Licenses and Certifications 

    Most states require private detectives and investigators to have private investigator licenses and it is absolutely necessary in order to work for a licensed private investigative agency.

    There may be a licensing fee associated with the application and renewal process.

    Currently, 43 states require state licensing to practice as a private investigator. Even those states without state licensing often require licensing at the local level. Therefore, becoming a private investigator the majority of the time involves not only seeking formal education and training in demand but state licensure, as well.

    State licensing ensures that private investigators work within the parameters of the law at all times and adhere to a strict set of laws and regulations.

    Requirements for state licensing differ from state to state, although most states require the following:

    • A high school diploma or GED

    • A minimum age (state requirements range from 18 to 25)

    • A clean criminal record of felony convictions or convictions involving crimes of moral turpitude

    • Industry experience and/or a college education

    • A United States citizen or legal resident

    Yearly Continuing Education or Professional Development hours

    Most States require the completion of continuing education during every license renewal period. This can be in the form of online or in person classes where you gain credit for hours completed. 

    Every year or every licensing period the state will require the private investigator complete classes on topics that may change or stay the same like ethics, professionalism, public records law etc. 

    How much money can Private Investigators earn per year?

    The below table will give you an average amount of money a Private Investigator can earn in different investigative areas.

    Annual Pay by Investigative Services Provided
    Finance and Insurance $64,010
    Government $62,090
    Investigation, Guard, and
    armored car services

    Top 5 highest-paying US states for Private Investigators

    Top 5 highest paying US states for Private Investigator
    California $68,570
    Delaware $65,610
    Utah $64,440
    Nevada $64,200
    New Jersey $63,970
    US Bureau of Labor Statistics

    Top 5 Lowest-Paying US states for Private Investigators 

    Top 5 lowest paying US states for Private Investigator
    Florida $41,750
    Indiana $42,430
    Oklahoma $44,180
    Wisconsin $44,480
    Nebraska $45,040
    US Bureau of Labor Statistics

    Is a PI a cop?

    A PI is not a Police Officer or COP and are private citizens unless they are deputized or sworn in by a law enforcement agency.

    Private investigators normally are not a sworn law enforcement officer or local government official.

    Many Private Investigators are prior police officers or retired police officers. A police officer who was once assigned as a detective may upon retirement become a successful private investigator.

    Tips on How to Get Started as a Private Investigator

    College and Continuing Education

    Attain an associate or bachelor's degree in criminal justice or related field. A criminal justice degree can provide you with some basic knowledge of criminal law.


    Joining your countries armed forces and specializing as a military police officer will give you great training and experience.


    Seek a short internship with government agencies like a law enforcement agency or the courts in order to build your resume


    Reach out to private investigator firms and seek mentorship from a certified investigator.

    Weapons Licensing

    It may not be a requirement to carry a firearm but many private I's do. For aspiring private investigators it would be a good idea to apply for a license to carry firearms which would include a background check and undergo firearms training like a basic firearms safety course.

    Depending on the state, passing a background investigation in order to receive a license to carry firearms is a good addition to your resume.

    Professional Development

    Read books or articles on how to conduct investigations. Seek also online courses in subject matter like what types of investigative software is on the market and how to use it.

    Do some research on public records law and familiarize yourself with how to request and receive law enforcement documents in your state.
    Read books or articles on how to conduct business practices.

      About the Author

      Brian Humenuk isn't just an entrepreneur in eCommerce, he is also an informed leader whose experience provides followers and visitors with a look into current and past police issues making headlines in the United States.

      Brian has earned three degrees in Criminal Justice with the last, a Masters of Science in Criminal Justice Administration.

      Brian extends his training, education, and experience to the officers just now getting into the field so that they may become more informed police officers and stay clear of police misconduct and corruption. 

      You can find out more about Brian and the COPJOT story on the ABOUT US page.

      Affiliate Disclosure

      COPJOT is supported by its audience. If you make a purchase through links on this site I may earn a small affiliate commission. Enough to buy myself a small coffee and I want to thank you in advance. 

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