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How to Become a Private Investigator in California

Updated: 4 days ago

Becoming a Private Investigator in California is different from most other places. The difference is that California does not require much for you to work as a PI for a Private Investigator agency. You simply need to be employed under a licensed California PI. However, you won’t be a licensed PI but you can work as one. This can be viewed as you being a Private Investigator under supervision. A full PI license allows you to work for yourself (your own business.). This requires you to have previous investigative experience. Other than investigative experience, you need to meet basic requirements such as age, language proficiency, and other usual requirements of this nature. Furthermore, you do not need to take a government approved PI licensing course (most other places you do). However, you will need to take a California government PI test: "California Private Investigator Examination." In California, the government body that controls licensed Private Investigators is The California Bureau of Security and Investigative Services. Once you submit the proof of your ability to meet the requirements and completion of the Private Investigator licensing test to the The California Bureau of Security and Investigative Services, you will get your PI license. Most jurisdiction will have a PI beginner’s license, California does not. However, being employed under a licensed California PI is similar to a beginner’s PI license. This is where your struggle will begin.

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The problem with California requiring previous investigative experience is that there is no such thing as equivalent Private Investigator experience. Sure, a career in law enforcement will gain you some transferable skills to bring to the PI world. However, an investigative career outside of PI work will not provide you the skill-set to perform what we do the most: single person surveillance for insurance fraud investigations. Furthermore, PIs typically obtain all evidence via quality and litigious video. This is uncommon for most other investigative careers. Being a police officer will not make you a good PI the same way being a PI will not make you a good police officer.


Private Detective Aptitude Test


Your Private Investigator beginner’s license in California is just being support staff to a California PI agency. It will allow you to work for a PI agency, but you will not be able to work for yourself (your own PI company). This means you must work under the supervision of a fully licensed California PI agency. However, the term “under supervision” will be in namesake only. You will not be supervised or guided by an experienced Private Investigator. In fact, PI agencies are not economically structured to have mentor/ student surveillance teams. Furthermore, a background in non-PI investigations will give you some transferable knowledge but it will not set you up to become a successful Private Investigator. New Private Investigators still need to know how to be successful working operations. This is why practical Private Investigator education and training specifically for Private Investigators is necessary.

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This lack of guidance is why so many rookie California Private Investigators burn out and quit and why many experienced Private Investigators are jaded. On top of this, PI clients with small budgets typically get the new unqualified Private Investigators, nobody wins in this situation. It is also not fair to small PI clients to use their files to haphazardly train new Private Investigators.


Learn How to Write a Surveillance Report


So, the time comes for you to work investigations with no Private Investigator experience or education. If you took a PI course or PI training, it most likely focused on legal matters with no real practical Private Investigator training or topics. You will always be told by employers that “soon you will get some PI training,” which never happens. It took me over five years to figure out the industry and get good at a few specialized fields. During that time, I struggled and probably lost several hundred thousand dollars due to loosing work opportunities from a lack of skill and education. What is sad is that this is a common story in the industry. If you make it through this meat grinder of an industry and get a California PI license, you be qualified to work for yourself with your own PI agency. Hopefully, when you are hiring new Private Investigators, you will appreciate the importance of proper PI education.


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Thinking of Becoming a California Private Investigator?


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