Today’s private investigators aren’t the lawless lone wolves portrayed in movies and television. In Arkansas and throughout the country, they come from all walks of life; they’re former journalists, police officers, corrections officers, teachers, and court reporters. What they all have in common, however, is an unwavering sense of justice.
Whether they’re helping a distraught family find a missing loved one – or at least find closure, busting internet catfishers and insurance fraudsters, or exonerating the wrongfully accused, they’re always on the side of justice.
Take, for instance, Blair Johnson, the staff investigator for the Midwest Innocence Project. Before joining the Project, Johnson used her background as a private investigator to land a job with the Iowa State Public Defender’s Wrongful Conviction Division, where she studied cases involving microscopic hair comparison. Today, she works alongside a team of attorneys, project managers, paralegals, and volunteers to advocate for the release of wrongfully convicted inmates in the Midwest (Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, and Arkansas).
Johnson and other PIs throughout Arkansas are uncovering corruption and collusion and bringing justice to their clients every day. It’s exciting, rewarding work that calls for the best of the best.
You’ll need a valid license from the Arkansas State Police Regulating Services Division to get a career in private investigations up and running.
Step 1. Meet Requirements for Applying for a License in Arkansas
In addition to two years of work experience alongside a licensed PI and passing the state board exam, applicants must meet the following additional requirements:
- U.S. Citizen or legal resident
- No felony or Class A misdemeanor convictions
- No history of violent or immoral behavior
- Successfully pass a background check
- Be fingerprinted through live scan
Step 2. Work Alongside an Arkansas Licensed PI for Two Years
Any person interested in applying for a PI license must first spend a minimum of two years working for a licensed private detective. The employer’s license can be from Arkansas, Tennessee, Oklahoma, or Louisiana because Arkansas has a reciprocal PI licensing agreement with these three other states.
Step 3. Be Prepared to Take the PI Examination in Arkansas
Although there is no education requirement for becoming a licensed PI, a great deal of knowledge is needed to pass the examination requirement. It is recommended that prospective investigators earn an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. A degree is also an advantage when seeking an agency with which to fulfill the two-year work experience requirement.
There are about 30 schools in Arkansas with criminal justice programs. Some of these schools, as well as a few private educational institutions, also offer a certificate in private investigation. The knowledge and skills needed to be a successful PI include such subject matter as:
- Private Investigation Laws
- How to Record Evidence
- Surveillance Techniques
- How to Use Computer Databases for Background Checks
- Surveillance Methods
- Courtroom Procedures
- Business Management
Step 4. Take and Pass the Arkansas State Board Examination
Information about times and places for taking the private investigator examination can be obtained from the Arkansas Board of Private Investigation and Private Security Agencies, 1 State Police Plaza Drive, Little Rock, AR 72209; telephone: 501-618-8600.
The examination consists of 100 questions and a score of at least 70 percent is needed to pass. Questions cover a wide range of subjects, from sexual harassment laws to record-keeping. Results are immediately available.
Step 5. Submit Application in Arkansas
The completed application should be submitted to the Arkansas State Police Regulatory Services Division at #1 State Police Plaza Drive, Little Rock, AR 72209. The application must be accompanied by the following documents:
- Written confirmation of two years experience under a licensed PI
- Passing examination score
- Proof of legal residency (if not a citizen)
- Check or Money Order for $450 license fee
- $38.50 to cover background checks and fingerprint cards
Step 6. Go to Work in Arkansas as a PI
Successful applicants are free to go to work in an established firm or set up shop on their own. Arkansas is a good working environment for PIs. There are over 30 private detective agencies in Little Rock alone. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that the job outlook for private detectives is good with an expected 21 percent increase in jobs by the year 2020. The annual median salary for private investigators in Arkansas is $72,509.
The state of Arkansas considers the field of private investigation to be a growing industry. Discover Arkansas projected that demand in this field will increase 13.5% between 2008 and 2018. They also estimated that private investigator employment in the state stood at 64 in 2012.
Private Investigator Salary Information for Arkansas*
You’ll be glad to know that the median salary for PIs in Arkansas was $72,508, according to May 2020 BLS statistics – that’s about $19,000 more than the national median for these pros. Even better, build your resume by getting a few years of experience under your belt and you’ll be among the top 10% who are earning an annual, average salary of $96,480.
The Arkansas State Police regulates and licenses private investigators in Arkansas. Before you can earn a license, however, you’ll need at least two, consecutive years of experience in investigations, either in law enforcement or working in a support role for a licensed PI. You’ll also need to pass a state board exam and a background check.
One way to gain experience is to work as an apprentice. Earning a degree in criminal justice can also prove invaluable and is a great way to strengthen your analytical skills and allow you to better understand the complexities of the legal system.
Private Investigator Salaries in Fort Smith, Little Rock
In 2019, PIs in the Fort Smith metro area enjoyed the highest salaries in the state at the median level, but Little Rock came out ahead for its payment of the top 10%.
The following BLS 2019 stats reveal the median-top 10% salary range for PIs working in Arkansas’ major metro areas of Fort Smith and Little Rock:
- Fort Smith: $58,460-$66,260
- Little Rock: $46,310-$77,940 (approximately 40 licensed PIs)
*May 2020 US Bureau of Labor Statistics Salary and Job Market Figures for Private Detectives and Investigators reflect state data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed September 2021.