Private Investigator License Requirements

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 34,700 private investigators in the United States in 2010. The BLS predicts that employment in this profession will grow by 21 percent by 2020, resulting in 41,900 private investigators working in the United States.

Given the sheer number of private investigators working in the U.S., many states have adopted strict regulation and licensing requirements for these professionals.

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Q: Do all states require private investigators to be licensed?

Answer: To date, just 7 states do not require private investigators to be licensed:

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Colorado
  • Idaho
  • Mississippi
  • South Dakota
  • Wyoming

However, of those 7 states, 3 states have licensing requirements at the local level, including Wyoming, Alaska and Alabama, while Colorado has a voluntary, state-issued license for private investigators that was recently enacted in 2012.

Those states without licensure for private investigators at either the state or local level—Idaho, Mississippi and South Dakota—all have active professional associations that have defined bylaws and codes of ethics. Membership in these private investigator associations provides a clear set of standards for the practice of private investigation.

Further, regardless of the absence of state license requirements, private investigators operating businesses are always subject to applicable business laws.

Q: What is required to become a licensed private investigator?

Answer: The remaining 43 states have state licensure for private investigators, and therefore have specific licensing requirements, which include education and experience requirements, application procedures, and renewal procedures. Further, a select number of states allow private investigators to carry weapons; as such, mandatory firearms training, certification, and certification renewal are commonplace.

However, because each state has their own legislation regarding the practice of private investigators and private investigative businesses, licensure requirements and the licensing process varies from state to state.

Generally, minimum requirements for state licensure include: being at least 21 (some states have age requirements as old as 25); possessing a high school diploma or the equivalent; and have U.S. citizenship or residency. Most states also have strict statutes prohibiting candidates who have felony convictions or misdemeanor convictions involving crimes of moral turpitude from becoming private investigators.

Education and experience licensing requirements differ among states. Common education requirements include possessing an associate’s degree or higher in criminal justice or a related program, while experience requirements vary based on a number of factors, including the field in which the experience was obtained. Many states allow candidates to substitute education for experience so as to meet minimum guidelines for licensure.

Some states, such as Oklahoma, allow candidates with no experience to become licensed, provided they complete CLEET-approved training.

Q. Which state agency or department licenses private investigators?

Answer: State licensure for private investigators is overseen by various state organizations or agencies.

For example, Arizona private investigator licensure is handled by the Licensing Unit of the Arizona Department of Public Safety, while private investigators in California are licensed through the Department of Consumer Affairs, Bureau of Security and Investigative Services.

Other states, including New Hampshire and New Jersey, regulate and license private investigators through the state police, while still others license private investigators through dedicated commissions, such as Tennessee’s Private Investigation and Polygraph Commission and North Dakota’s Private Investigations and Security Board.

Q. What is the process for applying for licensure as a private investigator?

Answer: Most states have a similar process for applying for state licensure as a private investigator, which generally includes the following:

  1. Achieve minimum licensure requirements
  2. Achieve required education/experience for licensure
  3. Complete fingerprinting process for background investigation
  4. Complete license application and provide necessary documentation
  5. Pass state examination
  6. Maintain state licensure through continuing education and license renewal

However, some states have an entirely different process for licensure, such as Pennsylvania, which requires candidates to contact the Clerk of Courts in their county of residence to request a court date and apply for licensure.

Q. Are there any specific requirements for licensure?

Answer: Certain professionals, such as mortgage brokers, travel agents, and private investigators, must hold a current and valid surety bond to practice, which protects customers or clients from financial responsibility resulting from fraud or negligence. Specifically, commercial surety bonds, which are designed for non-contract items, are often needed to obtain a license as a private investigator.

Obtaining a surety bond involves pre-qualifying for the bond with a surety bond company or an insurance agent that can issue surety bonds, and signing an indemnity agreement. The minimum surety bond amount for state licensure varies, with many states requiring private investigators to hold a surety bond of at least $10,000.

Q. Are state licenses valid across state lines?

Answer: Private investigators may travel to and operate in other states, provided they follow the state requirements for doing so. Many states allow private investigators to cross state lines for private investigative purposes, provided they initiate their investigation in their home state.

However, state licenses for private investigators cannot be transferred to other states, with one exception. A few states have entered into reciprocity agreements, which allow private investigators to conduct business between these states without holding a separate license. Currently, the following states have reciprocity agreements:

  • California
  • Louisiana
  • Virginia
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • Florida
  • Tennessee
  • Georgia

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