It’s a common assumption that individuals seeking to become private investigators either have worked as police officers or have some background in law enforcement. After all, private investigators conduct some activities that are similar to what a police officer might perform: investigative work, finding missing persons, verifying background information, among others. Because of these similarities, then it would be logical to assume that a law enforcement background is a requirement for a PI license.
So is it a requirement? The simple answer is no.
Background requirements for becoming a PI
The requirements for becoming a PI vary from state to state. For purposes of this discussion, let’s look at Texas. In order to earn a PI license, one must successfully pass the licensing exam; however, there’s an additional requirement. A licensee must meet a combination of practical investigative work experience/ educational requirement. Below are the requirements for Texas, as published by the Department of Public Safety:
(1) Three (3) consecutive years of investigation related experience;
(2) A bachelor's degree in criminal justice or related course of study;
(3) A bachelor's degree with twelve (12) months of investigation related experience;
(4) An associate degree in criminal justice or related course of study, with twenty-four (24) months of investigation related experience;
(5) A specialized course of study directly designed for and related to the private investigation profession, taught and presented through affiliation with a four (4) year college or university accredited and recognized by the State of Texas. This course of study must be endorsed by the four (4) year college or university's department of criminal justice program and include a departmental faculty member(s) on its instructional faculty. This course of study must consist of a minimum of two hundred (200) instructional hours including coverage of ethics, the Act, and this chapter; or
(6) Other combinations of education and investigation related experience may be substituted for the above at the discretion of the department or its designated representative.
The work requirement could be experience in law enforcement or some other type of investigative work experience at a law firm, financial institution or other organization where an employee might perform functions that would qualify.
So why does this common misperception exist?
As mentioned earlier, private investigators do perform tasks and activities that are similar to work done by law enforcement professionals. So, it’s a natural profession for retiring police officers to transition into after retiring or leaving law enforcement.
In fact, it’s so common that PI Now conducted a survey and posted the most common backgrounds of private investigators. In their survey, over half of the private investigators surveyed with ex-law enforcement. Essentially ever other private investigator one might meet was once in law enforcement. It’s pretty easy to see then why someone might assume that law enforcement is a prerequisite.
For individuals interested in private investigations, who have never served in law enforcement, it’s totally fine to pursue a career as a PI. Make sure to review the state work education requirements to see if you already meet the requirements and can sit for the qualifying exam.