Colorado’s private investigators spend their days solving puzzles. They unearth the pieces of the puzzle and then meticulously put them together to reach a clear conclusion. Some days, it’s good ol’ gumshoe detective work: poring over police reports and settling in for a long night of surveillance. Other days it’s taking to social media for clues and following cyber breadcrumbs.
|Gain the Necessary Education and Experience|
|Pass the Colorado Jurisprudence Exam and Apply for a PI License|
|Begin Working as a Private Investigator in Colorado|
|Keep your PI License Current|
If you’re going into investigations, chances are you’ll need to be tech-savvy. That’s because social media has ushered in a whole new era in private investigations. With suspects freely offering up snippets of their lives to their throngs of friends and followers, much of the work of today’s PIs is centered on scouring social media pages to uncover the truth. More than one person has been busted posting pictures of themselves water skiing on social media after filing a workers’ compensation claim for a back injury.
Being social media-savvy has paid off in dividends for the Denver DA’s Office newest private investigator, who was hired on full-time for the sole purpose of catching violators of the state’s 2013 law that bans domestic violence offenders from possessing firearms (referred to as the Red Flag law). This PI spends his days listening to 9-1-1 calls, scanning police reports, and checking out suspected offenders’ latest social media posts for signs that they have firearms in their possession. And, true to the times, many of the suspects are busted after posing with their newest boom-stick on Instagram.
Since 2015, Colorado requires private investigators to be licensed through the Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) Office of Private Investigator Licensure. The passage of this law added another layer of credibility to a profession that’s long-been working to rehab the image of the outlaw PI.
Today’s PIs are former cops, soldiers, and corrections officers looking for a new challenge after retirement. They’re also career changers and young adults fresh to the workforce. Regardless of their past experiences, today’s PIs are hardworking defenders of the legal system and seekers of justice – and recent employment statistics reveal the growing popularity of this field.
According to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, there were approximately 390 PIs working throughout the state in 2019; by 2021, this number is projected to increase to 400. With about 40 annual, average openings here each year, Colorado remains open for newbies who want to forge their own path and make their mark in private investigations.
Step 1. Gain the Necessary Education and Experience
Anyone hoping to pursue a career in private investigations would be smart to earn a degree in a field like criminal justice for a better understanding of the investigative process in the context of US law.
Colorado licenses private investigators at two successive levels, each of which has different requirements:
Level 1 Private Investigator License:
- At least 21 years old
- US citizen or legal resident of the US
- Pass the Colorado Jurisprudence Exam to demonstrate knowledge of ethical conduct and rules/regulations concerning the practice of private investigations
Level 2 Private Investigator License:
- Satisfy all of the above mentioned requirements for Level 1 Private Investigator licensing
- Have a minimum of 4,000 hours of investigative work experience as a PI or with a local, state or federal law enforcement agency
- The director of the Colorado Office of Private Investigator Licensure may also stipulate some college education as stated in Colorado Revised Statute 12-58.5-106
Many of those interested in becoming private investigators are former police detectives and military police officers who easily meet the experience requirement.
In addition to the experience/education prerequisites described above, all license applicants (both Level 1 and Level 2) must submit to fingerprinting for the purpose of a Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and FBI background check and submit a $330 application fee.
Instructions on fingerprinting for the purpose of a background check can be found here. CBI will submit the findings of your background check directly to the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies Office of Private Investigator Licensure.
Step 2. Pass the Colorado Jurisprudence Exam and Apply for a PI License
As a Level 1 or Level 2 private investigator license applicant, you are required to take and pass the Colorado Private Investigator Jurisprudence Examination online.
Exam preparation materials and instructions for taking the exam are available here.
Applicants that do not pass the exam on their first attempt must wait five (5) days before taking it again.
Upon passing the exam, applicants will be issued a Passing Results Report, which must be signed and submitted along with the online license application.
All applicants must apply for licensure using the Online Licensing Portal.
As part of the licensing process, all applicants must either currently hold or agree to post a surety bond of at least $10,000.
The affidavit of surety bond for private investigator licensure can be found here.
When submitting an online application, PI licensure applicants must also include:
- Passing Results Report for the Jurisprudence Exam
- Surety affidavit
- $330 license application fee
Step 3. Begin Working as a Private Investigator in Colorado
A licensed PI can go to work for an established firm or go into business alone. Persons who decide to go into business for themselves need to choose a name for their business, develop an appealing website and think about ways to market their business to a target audience. Many new PIs find it works better to specialize in a certain type of service, such as skip tracing, public records searches, accident reconstructions or insurance investigations.
Legal investigations and computer forensics are two high-demand specialties. Legal investigators assist attorneys in preparing cases for litigation by seeking out facts, such as who bears the responsibility in a personal injury case. Some education in law is a definite plus when specializing in legal investigations. Computer forensics specialists find legal evidence in computers and digital storage media. Computer forensics evidence is being used more and more frequently in both criminal and civil court cases.
Private Investigator Salaries in Colorado
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2012 salary report, the average annual salary for private detectives in the state of Colorado was $48,500. The average salary for that year is shown here for key metro areas in Colorado:
- Fort Collins: $34,620
- Colorado Springs: $48,080
- Denver: $66,610
Private investigators that establish independent PI firms have the potential to earn much more than this.
Step 4. Keep your PI License Current
In Colorado, private investigator licenses must be renewed on May 31st of each year. If a license is issued within 120 days of the upcoming renewal date (May 31st), the licensee will not be required to be renewed untill May 31st the following year.
Online license renewal forms can be found here.
Private Investigator Professional Organizations in Colorado
The Professional Private Investigators Association of Colorado (PPIAC) has regular meetings and an annual conference. It offers an excellent opportunity for networking with other investigators, keeping up with what is new in the field, and continuing to learn via workshops and seminars.
The Colorado Society of Private Investigators is a Denver-based organization dedicated to ethics, education and professional standards in the profession. Their regular meetings in Denver usually feature an educational speaker. Information is available at 303-296-2200.
Private Investigator Salary Information for Colorado*
According to May 2019 BLS statistics, private investigators earned a median salary of $49,550. Those with extensive experience and an impressive resume to match—Level II investigators—earn at or near the top 10%, where the reported average is $81,150.
To earn licensure as a Level I private investigator in Colorado, you’ll need to be at least 21 years old, and you’ll need to pass the Colorado jurisprudence examination and a criminal background check. To qualify for licensure as a Level II private investigator, you’ll need to complete all requirements as a Level I PI and show proof of having completed at least 4,000 hours of investigative work as a PI or with a local, state, or federal law enforcement agency.
And if you’ve completed a post-secondary college degree, you’re in luck when applying for a Level II license; you can substitute some of the required experience. A two-year degree can be substituted for 1,000 experience hours; a bachelor’s degree can be substituted for 2,000 experience hours; and a master’s or JD can be substituted for 3,000 experience hours.
Private Investigator Salaries in Denver, Aurora, and Fort Collins
You’ll always have more professional opportunities and a better chance at earning a lot of money if you settle into a large metro area. For example, PIs working in the Denver MSA enjoy the highest salaries in the state, both at the median level and at the top 10%.
BLS statistics reveal the following salary range (median-top 10%) for PIs working in Colorado’s two largest MSAs:
- Denver-Aurora: $59,830-$90,000 (approximately 170 licensed PIs)
- Fort Collins: $38,650-$60,310 (approximately 190 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 Colorado Department of Labor and Employment 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.