According to the National Institute of Justice, on any given day there are as many as 100,000 actively missing persons cases in the United States, with tens of thousands of those individuals disappearing under suspicious circumstances. Where do people turn when law enforcement is unable to provide them with answers regarding their missing loved ones?
Missing persons investigators are hired by loved ones when mysteries need solved and loved ones need found. Unlike law enforcement officials, who must operate under a strict set of laws regarding searching for missing persons (many of which are quite narrow), missing persons investigators may take on any type of missing persons case, even those that are deemed cold cases by law enforcement or are not considering missing persons cases at all.
This is because the term “missing persons” is a broad one that can be defined in a number of ways. Missing persons may be cold cases; they may not be legally classified as missing persons; or they may be active missing persons cases. As such, missing persons investigators may help locate missing persons in any number of circumstances:
- They may work alongside law enforcement officials in active missing persons cases, augmenting a current missing persons search or pursuing leads not considered credible by law enforcement.
- They may open a missing persons case and actively begin searching before law enforcement considers it a missing persons case.
- They may help families reconnect with separated loved ones.
- They may work with families to readdress cold missing persons cases that have been closed by law enforcement.
- They may help families seek additional answers on the missing persons cases of loved ones.
- They may help families find a missing loved one that is not considered “missing” in the eyes of the law.
- They may help find missing debtors, heirs, or witnesses.
Because of the many circumstances under which someone may be considered missing, missing persons investigators must be well-equipped to handle any number of circumstances and must be prepared to deal with emotionally charged situations and grief-stricken clients. However, this profession can be incredibly gratifying and exhilarating, as well, thereby attracting a number of private investigators to specialize in missing persons.
In short, missing persons investigators are the professionals called in when families and other loved ones want to find the truth about their missing loved ones, relatives, business associates, etc., regardless of the circumstances.
Missing persons investigators use a wide array of resources to find missing persons. They may pay informants, search the Internet and public databases, study police records regarding the case, and pursue leads wherever they make take them. They may question witnesses, perform background checks, and use a number of investigative techniques, including surveillance, to locate the whereabouts of missing persons.
Many individuals turn to the services of missing persons investigators because of their skills, their resources, and their dedication.
Becoming a Missing Persons Investigator
Those individuals who are interested in becoming missing persons investigators must have excellent oral and written communication skills, top-notch analytical and critical thinking skills, and an eye for detail. However, they must also possess a formal education as to best serve their clients. A formal education in criminal justice or a related field through an associate, bachelor, or master’s degree program, is a practical path to becoming a private investigator.
These programs often allow students to specialize their studies in a specific area, and the coursework prepares these individuals to conduct surveillance, interview witnesses, utilize technology, and ensure they are abiding by all laws as they conduct their investigations.
Just a few of the degree options available for private investigators include:
- Associate of Arts in Criminal Justice
- Associates of Science in Legal Studies
- Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice/Law Enforcement
- Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Administration
- Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Administration – Human Services
- Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice
The core curriculum of a degree program in criminal justice provides individuals with a foundation in ethics, the criminal justice system, and criminal law, while state licensure prepares individuals by assessing their knowledge (usually through a written exam) of the practice of private investigation in the state in which they will work.
Missing persons investigators must be licensed to practice in most states, and state requirements often include both education and experience. As such, an undergraduate or graduate program in criminal justice prepares individuals for state licensure and for working in the field of private investigation.
Many states require a background check, fingerprinting, and supervised experience as a condition of licensure, and it is also common for states to require continuing education as a condition of license renewal.