What Is a Private Detective?

Working for individual clients, police departments and corporate or executive offices, private detectives gather evidence to determine what has happened in cases. They use many different surveillance and investigation techniques to gather facts. Read on to learn more about job duties and educational requirements, as well as find out how much you can earn in this profession. Schools offering Law Enforcement degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Job Description

Private detectives and investigators work to gather information and evidence pertaining to a case or event to determine the guilty party and track down criminals. These professionals gather clues and verify facts for their cases, which is a process that involves surveillance, investigations and searches. For example, they can go to a client's or criminal's house or place of work to gather evidence, or they might also watch a location to determine misconduct. Some types of cases might include unsolved crimes, insurance issues, missing persons and stolen property.

Some common job tasks include:

  • Testifying and presenting evidence at hearings
  • Gathering and analyzing information to present to court
  • Documenting investigations
  • Interviewing clients, witnesses and criminals
  • Learning about the perpetrators
  • Performing undercover investigations

Important Facts About This Occupation

Required EducationHigh school diploma and work experience in law enforcement
Work EnvionmentOffices, in the field interviewing and surveilling
Key SkillsInquisitive, good at communication and decision-making, patient, resourceful
Similar OccupationsSecurity guards, and gaming surveillance officers, police and detectives

Education and Training Requirements

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), not all private detectives and investigators need a college degree, although an associate or bachelor's degree related to criminal justice can be useful and even required for some positions (www.bls.gov). On-the-job training is the most frequent method of learning, but some are certified or have licenses.

The BLS adds that these careers typically require several of years of experience. Private detectives can't have a criminal record and after becoming licensed and certified must continue to take courses. These will ensure they're familiar with new techniques and laws that can help or hinder the way they perform their jobs. Computer skills are becoming increasingly important, and without them, detectives might not be as effective as they could be. These professionals should also have strong communication and decision-making skills, as well as be persistent, patient and inquisitive.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the BLS, there were approximately 35,000 private detectives and investigators employed across the United States in 2014. While some were self-employed, most worked for investigation, guard and armored car services, finance and insurance, legal services, and government agencies. The BLS expects 5% job growth for these professionals over the 2014 to 2024 decade, which will result in 36,700 employed by 2024.

The BLS notes that this job growth is due to rising security concerns and a need for background checks. Professionals will be needed to protect confidential information, investigate Internet fraud and protect property. This field will have strong competition, although detective agencies may offer more opportunities for entry-level professionals. Having work experience in the field can also be helpful for improving job prospects.

In May 2014, the median wage for private detectives and investigators was $44,570, according to the BLS. Wages ranged from $27,000 or less for the bottom 10% of workers to $85,560 or higher for the top 10% of professionals.

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