Become a Private Detective through Training and Certification in Arizona

Getting the right training to become a PI is more important in Arizona than in a lot of other states. That’s because the state’s licensing process is pretty stringent and just a tad bit complicated.

In Arizona, the Department of Public Safety (DPS) regulates the licensing of private investigators (PI) and private detective firms. All PIs in the state have to have a Private Investigator Employee registration, and that registration has to be sponsored by a licensed private investigation agency. You moonlight for more than one agency? You’re gonna need two registrations.

That means PI agencies in the state are pretty picky about who they hire. Getting an education in the business improves your chances considerably.

If all that sounds like a lot of hassle and you’d prefer to strike out on your own, well, it only gets more complicated. Every agency has to be licensed too, and it can only do that through what is called a Qualifying Partner. QPs not only need the right training, but a minimum of three years of qualifying experience before they can open an agency. That requirement can be met with work for a private investigation firm or a federal, state or local government or law enforcement agency. And you’ll need retirement papers, performance evaluations, or a letter from your old boss saying it’s legit… so better not burn any bridges on your way out the door.

You may also need to invest in a pair of cowboy boots.

Meet Arizona Application Requirements
Meet Arizona Education and Training Prerequisites
Obtain Experience and Apprenticeships in Arizona
Submit Application and get Fingerprinting in Arizona
Now that You’re a Private Investigator in Arizona

Because of the stringent requirements, many retired police detectives become licensed private investigators in Arizona. But if you plan to work your way up to qualify on your own, a college degree and some training may be your best way into the ranks of Arizona PIs.



Step 1. Meet Application Requirements in Arizona

Applicants for a private investigator license in Arizona must meet these basic requirements:

  • At least 18 years old
  • U.S. citizen or legal resident
  • No felony convictions
  • Not under indictment for a felony
  • No registered sex offenders
  • Not on parole or probation
  • No misdemeanor convictions in the last five years for violent acts, fraud, theft, domestic violence, sexual misconduct or narcotics violations. This holds true even if the conviction was set aside.
  • Never convicted of attempting to act as a PI without a license



Step 2. Education and Training for a Career as an Arizona Private Investigator

It is recommended that individuals interested in a private investigator license in Arizona acquire an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related subject. Many top private detective agencies prefer candidates with a bachelor’s degree or even a law degree. There are more than 35 schools in Arizona, as well as numerous online schools, that have criminal justice programs. There are also colleges and private institutions that offer certificates in private investigation.

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The Arizona Association of Licensed Private Investigators (AALPI) is dedicated to bringing professionalism to the investigative industry. They provide an opportunity for networking and present educational programs on topics such as utilizing the latest computer technologies. In addition, the AALPI lobbies against laws that attempt to limit access to public records or impose regulations detrimental to investigative work.



Step 3. Experience and Apprenticeships in Arizona

Obtain documentation of at least three years full-time investigative work experience from a former employer.

Persons without this experience must first get a job as an apprentice with a licensed private investigation agency and then apply for a Private Investigator Employee Registration Certificate under the sponsorship of that agency.

Applicants must be 18 years old, citizens or legal residents of the U.S., and have no criminal record.

Applications must be accompanied with documentation of employment and $73 ($50 application fee plus $22 for the required fingerprinting). The DPS does a criminal background check before issuing the employee certificate. It is illegal to work for a PI agency without this certificate.



Step 4. Submit Application and get Fingerprinting in Arizona

A license application form can be downloaded at the Department of Public Safety website; Adobe Acrobat Reader software is needed. Or request an application form from the DPS, 2102 W. Encanto Blvd., Phoenix, AZ 85009-2347; telephone: 602-223-2361.  Mailing address is P.O. Box 6328, Phoenix, AZ 85005-6328.

If the applicant’s fingerprints are not already on file, he/she must be fingerprinted. The standard fee is $22.

The application form, employer documentation and required fees can be mailed to the above address or hand-carried to the Phoenix DPS office at 2102 Encanto Blvd. The licensing window is in Suite 130. Application packages, including fees, should be placed in the brown envelopes provided at the window.

The following fees need to be included in the application package:

  • One-time Application fee $250
  • License fee $400 (renewal $250)



Step 5. Now that You’re a Private Investigator in Arizona

Computer proficiency is a must for the job which also entails interviewing, conducting surveillances and writing detailed reports. The work done by a PI is extremely varied and can include such things as celebrity protection, background checks, and cases involving computer crime, harassment, child custody, insurance fraud, missing persons or copyright infringement.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the career outlook for private detectives is better than average, especially for computer forensics investigation specialists.

The annual mean wage for PIs in Arizona is $52, 360 – slightly higher in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area.

In 2012, 210 private investigators were employed in Arizona, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Their median annual salary was $49,450, while those in the top 10% percent of their field made an average of $78,300 a year.  Private investigators in the Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale area averaged almost exactly the same salary-level as those throughout the state.


Private Investigator Salary Information for Arizona*

Maybe because of the stringent licensing requirements, the state Workforce Department projected employment in this field to increase around 2.4% in the two year period from 2019 to 2021. An average of 40 openings annually are predicted to open up, a combination of new job creation and turnover in existing ranks.

That helps keep Arizona investigator salaries healthy, however. The annual median wage for 2019 came in at $53,180, or $25.57 per hour. At the top of the profession, the ranks of qualifying partners and other highly-experienced, highly-trained investigators make closer to six figures, however, with a median annual wage of  $90,070, or $43.30 per hour.

Private investigators in Arizona are represented by the Arizona Association of Licensed Private Investigators (AALPI). This organization helps to ensure that only properly licensed PIs are working in Arizona and keeps professional and ethical standards high, justifying the hefty case fees and salaries PIs are able to charge here. It also helps to fight burdensome legislation that could be damaging to the profession… and your pocketbook.

Private Investigator Salaries in Phoenix and Tucson 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes 2019 information on salaries for private investigators for selected cities in most states. In Arizona, the major metro areas around Phoenix and Tucson are represented. Phoenix is the hands-down winner in overall employment, but Tucson, surprisingly, offers a higher median salary, beating both Phoenix and the state median by more than $3,000 per year.

The following BLS stats reveal the median-top 10% salary range for PIs working in Arizona’s major metro areas of Phoenix and Tucson:

  • Phoenix: $53,230- $93,210 (approximately 310 licensed PIs) 
  • Tucson: $56,230-$66,350 (approximately 30 licensed PIs) 

*Salary and employment data compiled by the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics in May of 2019. Figures represent accumulated data for all employment sectors in which private investigators work. BLS salary data represents state and MSA (metropolitan statistical area) average and median earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries.

2019 job growth projections from the Arizona Workforce Department are aggregated through the U.S. Department of Labor-Sponsored resource, Projections Central. Employment conditions in your area may vary.

All salary and employment data accessed May 2020.

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