Become a Private Detective through Training and Certification in Wisconsin

In order to obtain a private detective license in Wisconsin you must (explained below):

Meet Basic Wisconsin License Eligibility Requirements
Get Fingerprinted
Take and Pass the Wisconsin Licensing Exam
Decide on Carrying Firearms and Meet Wisconsin Requirements
Complete PAWLI

The Wisconsin Department of Regulation & Licensing oversees the private detective verification and application process. In the state of Wisconsin, a private detective is defined as any of the following:

  • A person who performs the duties of a private detective or advertises themselves as such
  • A person who investigates a person, group, or organization, on behalf of another person, group, or organization, for monetary compensation or other forms of consideration
  • A person who provides personal protection services to another person or group, including protection from bodily harm and death.



Step 1. Learn the Basic Wisconsin Private Detective License Eligibility Requirements

In order to become a private detective in the state of Wisconsin, you must meet the following basic requirements:

  • Be 18 years of age or older
  • Have a high school diploma
  • Have a criminal record free of any felony convictions (or have any convictions pardoned by the governor or reduced to a misdemeanor)
  • Be employed by a licensed detective or investigation agency in Wisconsin



Step 2. Get Fingerprinted and Additional Documentation

All new private detective applicants in the state of Wisconsin are required to be electronically fingerprinted. After being fingerprinted you must submit a completed application within 14 days. Fingerprinting can be done by scheduling an appointment with L-1 Identity Solutions (866-416-4896). There is also additional documentation that is required but may be different for every applicant.

In addition to your completed application and fingerprint documentation, you will be required to submit a release for Federal Bureau of Investigation information, a color photograph of your face, and a conviction/pending charges form.

*Note: Unless you are covered by the liability insurance of the employing agency, you must obtain a $2,000 bond. You are responsible for obtaining your own insurance bond, the state does not sell bonds for licensing purposes. If you are looking to become an independent investigator, you must apply for a private detective agency license as well. The investigator application can be obtained in person from the Wisconsin DRL or can be downloaded from the department’s website. If you are working independently you must also fill out the “Employer” section of the application. If you owe any back taxes or child support or alimony payments, the application will automatically be rejected.



Step 3. Take and Pass the Wisconsin State Licensing Exam

The most difficult part of the application process for most applicants is the state licensing exam. Once the application, fingerprints, and additional documentation have all been submitted, the Wisconsin DRL will process all of the paperwork and documentation and email instructions to you for taking the licensing exam.

The exam itself is somewhat extensive and covers the information included in the Private Detective Code Book which can be downloaded or obtained by calling 608-264-9419.

It is also strongly recommended that you conduct an interview with a licensed Wisconsin private detective and request a recommendation of other pertinent materials to study for the exam. A list of licensed Wisconsin detectives can be found at the Professional Association of Wisconsin Licensed Detectives (PAWLI) website.



Step 4. Decide on Carrying a Firearm and Meet Wisconsin Requirements

Regarding firearms, the application process is the same whether you plan to carry a weapon or not. However, the state of Wisconsin does have specific administrative rules and codes regarding the carrying of a firearm by licensed private detectives while on the job.

The general conditions relating to carrying a firearm, the training requirements for carrying a firearm, and various agency firearms policies and laws can all be found on the Wisconsin Legislative Documents page of the State of Wisconsin website (



Step 5. Complete PAWLI and Additional Recommendations to Become More Marketable

Wisconsin does not require prior experience in order to become a private detective but training is helpful for the applicant in performing his or her job. There are a number of tech schools in Wisconsin that offer Professional Detective training programs and it is also advised that you conduct interviews and spend time with licensed and experienced detectives in order to become familiar with the day-to-day of P.I. work.

It is also advised that the detectives you contact be members of PAWLI. These men and women have years of hands-on experience in all facets of private investigation and are more often than not very willing to share that experience and give advice to new and prospective detectives.



Private Investigator Salary Information for Wisconsin

The employment for private investigators in Wisconsin is expected to grow 9.5% in the period from 2004 to 2014, according to the state’s Department of Workforce Development.  These jobs are projected to be due to people leaving the workforce rather than to the creation of new private investigation jobs.

Salaries for private investigators in the state in 2012 are available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

They are listed below for selected areas:

Wisconsin City
Average Annual Salary
Milwaukee area

The state of Wisconsin requires a license from the state’s License, Permit and Registration Services to become a private detective or private investigator in Wisconsin.  Before individuals can apply for this license, they need to submit their fingerprints for a criminal background check.

After they have applied for their license, applicants must pass an online exam of 100 questions on investigative practices in general and the relevant Wisconsin statutes and code.

Once aspiring private investigators have received their license, they are qualified for a number of different types of jobs.  A number of PIs specialize in surveillance.  This skill is useful in helping retail establishments prevent shoplifting.  Others use surveillance for individuals who are concerned about cheating spouses.  Insurance companies hire professionals to verify that individuals receiving worker’s compensation are truly injured.

Many private investigators work for government agencies and perform background checks on prospective employees for law enforcement or other positions of authority.

Fewer investigators work for high tech companies such as aerospace manufacturers.  This can be a highly lucrative area as these companies struggle to protect their trade secrets.

The BLS provides salary information for private investigators who worked in Wisconsin in 2012.  A detailed breakdown of hourly and annual salaries by percentile is listed below.

Private Investigator Salaries in Wisconsin

Area name
Annual mean wage
Lake County-Kenosha County IL-WI Metropolitan Division
Estimate not released
Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis WI
Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington MN-WI

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