When it comes to criminal justice careers, you have a number of options.

While most of these options involve working for governmental agencies as an officer who is sworn to uphold the law—actively stepping in whenever someone decides to engage in illegal activities—another alternative involves spending your days collecting as much information as possible about a particular person or target. This is the role of the private investigator.

What Does a Private Investigator Do?

Private investigators (sometimes called PIs or 'private eyes' for short) are essentially non-police detectives that are tasked with collecting as much information as possible about one particular person or group by whatever legal means available to them.

However, since you're not employed by a police agency, you do not have the ability to arrest the subject for doing something illegal, and you cannot use other means that full-time officers can to obtain more information, such as getting a search warrant. Who hires you then?

Gravitas Investigations reports that private investigators are typically used by:

  • Human resources departments – to ensure job applicants are truthful on their applications and likely to be a good fit
  • Safety professionals – to assess credibility of workplace injury claims
  • Insurance claims adjusters – to either verify or rule out insurance fraud
  • Lawyers – to locate hard-to-find witnesses or dig up more detail on the opposing party
  • Caretaker – to learn more about a potential babysitter or other caregiver
  • Business owners – to check out a potential business partner or conduct a security audit
  • Property owner – to obtain more information about possible tenants

Depending on the type of work you do as a private investigator, you could spend a majority of your time in front of a computer, pulling up whatever information you can find about your target online, or you could be working more in the field.

The latter may involve watching to see where the person goes (following him or her if necessary), noting who they interact with, and documenting whether they're going beyond their own stated physical limitations.

PIs can expect to work irregular hours, with your schedule largely dependent on the schedules of those you are hired to learn more about. So, expect to work at least some nights, weekends, and holidays to secure the necessary information you need to provide a complete review of the case at-hand.

Salary Potential for Private Investigators

The average annual pay for private detectives and investigators is approximately $50,700 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This equates to roughly $24.38 per hour.

The BLS further adds that income potential can also vary based on the industry you choose to work within. For instance, the two top-paying industries are currently government (with a median income of $56,700 per year) and finance and insurance (in which PIs earn an average of $56,090 annually).

Private Investigator Licensing Requirements

PrivateInvestigatorEDU.org shares that there are currently only three states that do not require that individuals working as private investigators be licensed. These states are Idaho, Mississippi, and South Dakota.

Additionally, if you work as a PI in Wyoming or Alaska, though you're not mandated to be licensed by the state, there are still local licensing requirements to consider.

While every jurisdictions states what these licensing requirements are, generally speaking, most mandate that you be at least 21 years of age and be a U.S. citizen or have U.S. residency. There are also typically regulations regarding criminal history. So, if you've ever been convicted of a felony or have certain misdemeanors, you may be prohibited from becoming licensed.

Some states also require that you have some experience before you can be licensed to work as a PI. Others, like Oklahoma, are okay with no experience, as long as you have completed all of the necessary training requirements.

To learn more about the licensing requirements in your particular state, PrivateInvestigatorEDU.org offers links to each one. This will tell you exactly what you need to do to work in this position in your local area.

Training and Education for Private Investigators

Even though the BLS indicates that some organizations only require a high school diploma or its equivalent to work as a private investigator, like with many other criminal justice careers, PrivateInvestigatorEDU.org states that many employers prefer that you have a degree in this field, whether an associate degree or higher.

Because you'll be working on your own a majority of the time with limited supervision, whomever is hiring you likes to know that you understand what you can and cannot do within the confines of the law. Having a higher level of education can provide this type of information.

Want to Learn More About Criminal Justice Careers?

If you'd like to learn more about the many criminal justice careers available with this type of degree, or if you're ready to become a PI in your area, check out Saint Leo University's Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice program.

Additionally, when you enroll in this program, you can specialize in either criminalistics or homeland security, enabling you to pick the criminal justice career track that is most appealing to you.