If you can get them talking, the real-life stories NYC PIs tell make the screen versions of the job seem boring by comparison.
In January 2020, the years of hard work that one NYC private investigator put into clearing a man’s name finally paid off when a judge vacated all charges against the accused. Working on behalf of the wrongly-convicted Bronx man, the Conviction Integrity Unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office brought in a PI as a last-ditch effort to put together a body of evidence strong enough to have the case referred to the Innocence Project. Thanks to the dedicated work of the PI, they were able to make it happen.
After serving his entire 25-year prison sentence for a 1984 sexual assault he didn’t commit, all the while proclaiming his innocence, the man was finally vindicated the day his record was wiped clean. It’s a story that’s all too common in the overworked criminal justice system of New York City, and one that doesn’t always have a happy ending for the wrongfully accused. The underlying story here is one that PIs are often too humble to tell.
Even with 2,710 licensed PIs working in New York State as of 2016 according to the State Department of Labor; by 2026 this number is projected to grow to 3,220, representing a 19% increase as the demand for investigative services continues to grow at a blistering pace. Even with an average of 330 licenses expected to be issued each year during the ten-year period leading up to 2026, heavy caseloads are keeping just about everyone in the industry backlogged with more work than they can handle.
The New York State Division of Licensing Services licenses and regulates private investigators. To qualify for a license and know-how to become a Private Investigator in New York – the Empire State, you’ll need to complete a series of specific steps:
Step 1. Meet Minimum New York Requirements for Licensure
Candidates who want to become licensed private investigators in New York must meet a number of minimum requirements:
- You must be at least 25 years old.
- You must be a United States citizen.
- You must possess a high school diploma.
Step 2. Meet Education and Experience Requirements in New York
To meet new York’s requirements for licensure, you must possess ONE of the following:
- At least 3 years of full-time investigative experience as an employee or a licensed private investigator or as an investigator for a government investigative agency or police agency
- At least 3 years of full-time equivalent experience where primary duties were to conduct investigations
- At least 3 years of full-time experience supervising the work of at least 3 people who performed investigations
- At least 20 years of service as a police officer
- At least 20 years of full-time service as a Fire Marshall
Although education requirements for licensure as a private investigator in New York are not enforced, many individuals in this line of work nevertheless pursue a degree in criminal justice or a related program to obtain vital expertise in the field of criminal justice and law enforcement.
Step 3. Take the New York Private Investigator Examination
Before you can apply for a private investigator license in New York, you must take and pass the state examination for private investigators.
You can view the exam schedule for a list of upcoming dates and locations and register for the exam at the test center on the day of the exam. Exam schedules are updated in January and July of each year.
You will have 2 ½ hours to complete the examination.
On the day of the exam, you must bring a government-issued photo ID (driver’s license, military ID, passport, state-issued identification, and the $15 examination fee (check, money order, MasterCard, or Visa acceptable).
Before taking the examination, you will be thumb printed, and all electronic devices, including cell phones, must be turned off during the exam. You must score at least 70 percent on the exam to receive a passing score, and you will be notified, by mail, of your passing or failing score on the exam. If you pass the exam, the Division of Licensing Services will mail you a license application to complete.
Step 4. Complete Fingerprinting Procedures in New York
All candidates for licensure must go through either IdentoGo or MorphoTrust USA to have their electronic fingerprints completed. You must schedule an appointment by calling 1-877-472-6915 (and provide them with the ORI number NY922020Z).
You must complete the NYS Fingerprinting Services Information form and bring it with you to the fingerprinting site and pay the $88.75 fingerprinting fee (payable to MorphoTrust USA).
Step 5. Apply for a New York Private Investigator License
You cannot apply for a license unless you pass the written exam, and you have 2 years from the date you pass the examination to apply for licensure.
You may apply for a private investigator license as an individual, a partnership, or a corporation.
Your application must include the following documents:
- A signed DMV Consent form
- Bond form
- Receipt from electronic fingerprinting by an approved vendor
- Application fee (made payable to the NYS Department of State) of $400 (or $500 for a business or corporate business license and $500 for each branch office)
- Proof of qualifying experience (a sworn statement from each employer)
- Sworn statements from at least 3 people who have direct knowledge of your claimed experience
- Proof of earnings for the last 3 years of full-time experience
Step 6. Get to Work in New York
There are a number of professional associations in New York that provide many benefits to private investigators, such as networking opportunities, events, conferences, and job opportunities:
- New York State Chapter of the Special Investigative Units Inc.
- New York State Police Investigators Association
- Associated Licensed Detectives of New York State
- New York Gang Investigators Association
- NYC Detective Investigators Association
- New York Welfare Fraud Investigators
- New York State Fire Investigators
Step 7. Maintain your New York License
All private investigator licenses in New York are renewed every 2 years. The cost of renewal is $400 ($500 for corporate or business), and you must provide the Division with a Certificate of Bonded Status form when renewing your license. You will receive renewal instructions from the Division within 90 days of the expiration of your license.
Private Investigator Salary Information for New York*
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), New York’s private investigators earned an annual, average salary of $58,560, as of May 2020– that’s about $5,000 more than the national average. Earn credibility in the field and grow your client list and you’ll get a bigger haul. In fact, the top 10% here earn an annual, average salary of $90,040.
Private investigators in New York must obtain a license from the Department of State Division of Licensing Services before they can work in the state. To qualify, you must be at least 25 years old, you must pass a background check and written exam, and you must meet at least one of the following experience requirements:
- Three years as a law enforcement officer
- Three years working for a licensed private investigator
- Twenty years as an employee of a police or fire department
Private Investigator Salaries in NYC, Albany, Schenectady, Troy, and Rochester
Not surprisingly, the BLS ranked the New York-Newark-Jersey City NY/NJ/PA metro area second in the nation in terms of employment level, with 1,410 PIs as of May 2019.
The following BLS stats provide a glimpse into what PIs in the median-top 10% salary range earn in the Albany, Troy, and NYC MSAs:
- Albany-Troy: $70,810-$81,330
- New York City: $52,350-$84,100
Albany-Schenectady-Troy had the highest average salary during this time, while Rochester came out on top among the top-earning (top 10%) PIs in the state, with an average, annual salary of $123,390.
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.