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Nature of the Work
* Work hours are often irregular.
* No formal education requirements exist for applicants, although almost all have experience in other occupations, often law enforcement or the military.
* A license is required in most areas.
Private detectives and investigators assist attorneys, businesses, and the public with a variety of problems. Their services include protecting businesses and their employees, customers, and guests from theft, vandalism, and disorder as well as gathering evidence for a trials, tracing debtors, or conducting background investigations. While detectives concentrate on providing protection and investigators specialize in gathering information, many do some of each.
Private detectives and investigators' duties range from locating missing persons to exposing fraudulent workers' compensation claims. Some specialize in one field, such as finance, where they might use accounting skills to investigate the financial standing of a company or locate funds stolen by an embezzler. Others specialize in locating missing persons, investigating infidelity, or conducting background investigations, including financial profiles and asset searches; others do executive protection and bodyguard work.
Most detectives and investigators are trained to perform physical surveillance, often for long periods of time, in a car or van. They may observe a site, such as the home of a subject, from an inconspicuous location. The surveillance continues using still and video cameras, binoculars, and a citizen's band radio or a car phone, until the desired evidence is obtained. They perform on-line computer database searches, or work with someone who does. Computers allow detectives and investigators to obtain massive amounts of information in a short period of time from the dozens of on-line data bases containing probate records, motor-vehicle registrations, credit reports, association membership lists, and other information.
Private detectives and investigators obtain information by interviewing witnesses and assembling evidence and reports for litigation or criminal trials. They get cases from clients or are assigned to cases by the manager of the firm they work for. Many spend considerable time conducting surveillance, seeking to observe inconsistencies in a subject's behavior. For example, a person who has recently filed a workers' compensation claim stating that an injury has made walking difficult should not be able to jog or mow the lawn. If such behavior is observed, the investigator takes video or still photographs to document the activity and reports back to the supervisor or client.
Some investigations involve verification of facts, such as an individual's place of employment or income. This might involve a phone call or a visit to the workplace. In other investigations, especially in missing persons cases and background checks, the investigator interviews people to gather as much information as possible about an individual.
Legal investigators specialize in cases involving the courts and are normally employed by law firms or lawyers. They frequently assist in preparing criminal defenses, locate witnesses, interview police, gather and review evidence, take photographs, and testify in court. To assist attorneys in the preparation of civil litigation, they interview prospective witnesses, collect information on the parties to the litigation, and search out testimonial, documentary, or physical evidence.
Corporate investigators work for companies other than investigative firmsoften large corporations. They conduct internal or external investigations. External investigations may consist of undercover operations aimed at preventing criminal schemes, thefts of company assets, or fraudulent deliveries of products by suppliers. In internal investigations, they may investigate drug use in the workplace, insure that expense accounts are not abused, and determine if employees are stealing merchandise or information.
Detectives and investigators who specialize in finance may be hired to develop confidential financial profiles of individuals or companies who may be parties to large financial transactions and often work with investment bankers and accountants. They also may search for assets after fraud or theft, to recover damages awarded by a court.
Private detectives and investigators who work for retail stores or malls are responsible for loss control and asset protection. Store detectives safeguard the assets of retail stores by apprehending anyone attempting to steal merchandise or destroy store property. They detect theft by shoplifters, vendor representatives, delivery personnel, and even store employees. Store detectives also conduct periodic inspections of stock areas, dressing rooms, and rest rooms, and sometimes assist in the opening and closing of the store. They may prepare loss prevention and security reports for management and testify in court against persons they apprehend.
Private detectives and investigators often work irregular hours because of the need to conduct surveillance and contact people who may not be available during normal working hours. Early morning, evening, weekend, and holiday work is common.
Many detectives and investigators spend much time away from their offices conducting interviews or doing surveillance, but some work in their office most of the day conducting computer searches and making phone calls. Some split their time between office and field. Those who have their own agencies and employ other investigators may work primarily in an office and have normal business hours.
When working a case away from the office, the environment might range from plush boardrooms to seedy bars. Store and hotel detectives work mostly in the businesses that they protect. Investigators generally work alone, but sometimes work with others during surveillance or when following a subject.
Much of the work detectives and investigators do can be confrontational because the person being observed or interviewed may not want to be. As a result, the job can be stressful and sometimes dangerous. Some detectives and investigators carry handguns. In most cases, a weapon is not necessary because the purpose of their work is the gathering of information and not law enforcement or apprehension of criminals. Owners of investigative agencies have the added stress of having to deal with demanding and sometimes distraught clients.
Private detectives and investigators held about 58,000 jobs in 1996. About 17 percent were self-employed. About 36 percent of wage and salary workers worked for detective agencies and about 42 percent were employed as store detectives in department or clothing and accessories stores. Others worked for hotels and other lodging places, legal services firms, and in other industries.
There are no formal education requirements for most private detective and investigator jobs, although most employers prefer high school graduates; many private detectives have college degrees. Almost all private detectives and investigators have previous experience in other occupations. Some work initially for insurance or collections companies or in the security industry. Many investigators enter the field after serving in military or law enforcement jobs.
Retired law enforcement officers, military investigators, and government agents frequently become private detectives and investigators as a second career. Others enter from such diverse fields as finance, accounting, investigative reporting, insurance, and law. These individuals often can apply their prior work experience in a related investigation specialty. A few enter the occupation directly after graduation from college, generally with majors in such fields as criminal justice or police science.
The majority of the States and the District of Colombia require private detectives and investigators be licensed by the State or local authorities. Licensing requirements vary widely. Some States have very liberal requirements, or none at all, while others have stringent regulations. For example, the California Department of Consumer Affairs Bureau of Security and Investigative Services requires 6,000 hours of investigative experience, a background check, and a qualifying score on a written examination. A growing number of States are enacting mandatory training programs for private detectives and investigators. In most States, convicted felons may not be licensed.
In most investigations firms, the screening process for potential employees includes a background check, to confirm education and work experience, to inquire about criminal history, and to interview references and others who know the applicant.
For private detective and investigator jobs, most employers look for individuals with ingenuity who are curious, aggressive, persistent, and assertive. A candidate must not be afraid of being confrontational, should communicate well, and should be able to think on his or her feet. The courts are often the ultimate judge of a properly conducted investigation, so the investigator must be able to present the facts in a manner a jury will believe.
Training in subjects such as criminal justice are helpful to the aspiring private detective and investigator. Most corporate investigators must have a bachelor's degree, preferably in a business-related field. Some corporate investigators have masters of business administration or law degrees, while others are certified public accountants.
Corporate investigators hired by larger companies may receive formal training from their employers on business practices, management structure, and various finance-related topics. Good interviewing and interrogation skills are important and are usually acquired in earlier careers in law enforcement or other fields.
Most investigations firms are small, with little room for advancement. Usually there are no defined ranks or steps, so advancement is in terms of salary and assignment status. Many detectives and investigators work for various investigations firms at the beginning of their careers and after a few years try to start their own firms. Corporate and legal investigators may rise to supervisor or manager of the security or investigations department.
Employment of private detectives and investigators is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2006. In addition, job turnover should create many additional job openings, particularly among wage and salary workers. Nevertheless, competition is expected for the available openings because private detective and investigator careers are attractive to many, and there are many individuals who retire from law enforcement and military careers at a relatively young age who are qualified to enter the field.
Increased demand for private detectives and investigators is expected to be generated by fear of crime, increased litigation, and the need to protect confidential information and property of all kinds. Additional private investigators will be needed by law firms to meet the needs for criminal defense and civil litigation among companies and individuals. Greater corporate financial activity worldwide will increase the demand for investigators to control internal and external financial losses, as well as to find out what competitors are doing and to prevent industrial spying.
Opportunities should be best for entry-level jobs as store detectives or with detective agencies on a part-time basis. Those seeking store detective jobs may find the best opportunities with private guard and security firms since some retail businesses are replacing their own workers with outside contract workers.
Earnings of private detectives and investigators vary greatly depending on their employer, specialty, and the geographic area in which they work. According to a study by Abbott, Langer & Associates, security/loss prevention directors and vice presidents earned an average $67,700 a year in 1996, investigators about $37,800 a year, and store detectives about $19,100.
Most private investigators bill their clients between $50 and $150 per hour to conduct investigations. Except for those working for large corporations, most private investigators do not receive paid vacation or sick days, health or life insurance, retirement packages, or other benefits. Investigators are usually reimbursed for expenses and generally receive a car allowance.
Most corporate investigators received health insurance, pension plans, profit-sharing plans, and paid vacation.
Private detectives and investigators often collect information and protect property and assets of companies. Others with related concerns include security guards, insurance claims examiners, inspectors, collectors, and law enforcement officers. Investigators who specialize in conducting financial profiles and asset searches do work closely related to that of accountants and financial analysts.
For information on local licensing requirements, contact your State Department of Public Safety, State Division of licensing, or your local or State police headquarters.
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