How do we convince America that we’re a credible profession when some states require no training, experience, or even a license to operate as a private investigator?
Raising educational standards, says one Idaho PI, might be a great place to start.
It’s a crucial time for those entering the PI profession.Statistics from the Bureau Labor of Statistics (BLS) show the career outlook for the PI industry is positive, with a growth rate of 11% between 2012 and 2022, which equates to an additional 3300 PIs joining the cadre.
As new prospects look to enter the field, there will be an even greater need for national educational standards for both (1) a professional certification geared toward people with extensive investigative experience, and (2) PI-specific higher education degrees for those just starting out.
Let’s take a look at what new standards for both categories could mean for the PI profession.
The amount of professional experience, training, and licensing to become a PI varies widely from state to state. On one end of the spectrum are states like Alaska and Idaho, which do not require experience, training, or even a license to operate as a PI. Conversely, the state of Connecticut requires applicants to be at least 25 years of age, with a minimum of 5 years of full-time investigative experience, a surety bond, and liability insurance, fingerprints, and payment of application and licensing fees. The Commonwealth of Virginia requires a mandatory 60-hour PI course covering the 5 key pillars of PI work from an approved training provider.
No one is suggesting that Connecticut’s or Virginia’s models are the answer, nor is a strict cookie-cutter approach viable. The question remains: How is the average American going to think this is a credible profession when there are no consistent standards?
Higher Education Degrees
Likewise, what options are there for entry-level investigators who seek formal education to prepare themselves for a career in the PI field?
Not many. Few accredited colleges offer actual PI degrees. You may find some schools that offer PI courses as a part of a criminal justice degree, or a condensed semester-long diploma program, or even an online program that serves as a minor degree. There is no problem with these courses; they are better than nothing. But they vary in scope and curriculum so much that it is no wonder many struggle to make it in the profession coming right out of school.
Are There Any Solutions?
One way to resolve this inconsistency might be to create a national organization that oversees and advises training providers by (1) offering consistent course requirements for the professional certification, and (2) establishing a curriculum for accredited schools for the PI higher education degrees.
This organization, let’s call it the National Private Investigator Educational Board (NPIEB), would work with states to advocate for a mandatory professional certification course for all new PIs, which could be, say, a rigorous four-week course addressing all of the key components of professional investigations, including a pass or fail examination at the end of the course. Successful completion of this course, plus relative investigative experience (say, 3 years), and a thorough background check, license fees, bonds, and liability insurance, could serve as one possible template.
The NPIEB could start with a few willing states (Perhaps Alaska and Idaho would volunteer.) and work toward eventually getting all states on board.
Similarly, the NPIEB could bring on titans of the PI industry to establish a sound curriculum for a PI higher education degree at the associate, undergrad, and graduate levels. In addition to the normal general courses, this curriculum would be PI specific, with courses addressing interviewing, reporting, photography, videography, editing, marketing, entrepreneurship, accounting, law, criminal justice, foreign language, surveillance and ethics. The NPIEB could forge partnerships with schools throughout the country to launch the same PI degrees with the new standard curriculum for all.
The professional certification, higher education degree, and NPIEB are ideas, as well as conversation starters.
If the BLS statistics hold true, what side of history does this profession want to be on? The side where the PI industry attracts the type of people who have no investigative experience, don’t take the profession seriously, and view the occupation as a field with a low barrier to entry, so why not?
Or should this profession recruit the best and the brightest, educated people who are willing to get the necessary experience, overcome higher barriers of entry, and join a credible cadre of professional PIs? There is no easy answer to this problem, but it would be good to start somewhere. Don’t you think it’s time?
About the Author:
Cooper Fields is the owner and operator of Field’s Private Detectives, a private investigation and event security agency based in Boise, Idaho.
*editor’s note: We offer this guest editorial for discussion and commentary. Please note that we, as editors and owners of PursuitMag and PIeducation.com, support professional standards for private investigators and continue to update and improve our approved continuing education courses for investigators.