What is a Private Investigator?

June 4, 2002

A private investigator is an individual who (1) investigates crimes, (2) investigates the identity, business, occupation, character, etc., of a person, (3) investigates the location of lost or stolen property, (4) investigates the cause of fires, losses, accidents, damage or injury, or (5) secures evidence for use in court. Private investigators may protect persons only if such services are incidental to an investigation; they may not protect property.   An individual, partnership, or corporation licensed as a private investigator may employ a qualified manager to manage the business on a day-to-day basis.  To be eligible to APPLY for licensure as a private investigator /qualified manager, applicants must meet the following requirements:

  • Be 18 or older. 
  • Undergo a criminal history background check through the California Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
  • Have three years (2,000 hours each year, totaling 6,000 hours) of compensated experience in investigative work; or a law or police science degree plus two years (4,000 hours) of experience; or an AA degree in police science, criminal law, or justice and 2 ½ years (5,000 hours) of experience.
  • Experience must be certified by your employer and have been received while you were employed as a sworn law enforcement officer, military police officer, insurance adjuster, employee of a licensed PI or repossessor, or arson investigator for a public fire suppression agency.  (Work as a process server, public records researcher, custodial attendant for a law enforcement agency, bailiff, agent who collects debts in writing or by telephone after the debtor has been located, or person who repossesses property after it has been located is NOT considered qualifying experience.)
  • Pass a two-hour multiple-choice examination covering laws and regulations, terminology, civil and criminal liability, evidence handling, undercover investigations and surveillance.

For more information, contact the California State Bureau of Security & Investigative Services (BSIS)

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