Why Should Private Investigators Be Licensed?

Mar 11, 2014

Over my career, I’ve mentored and helped guide countless numbers of investigators. I am very passionate about the profession, and yes I do call this a profession. I do not want to call this an industry. Why should private investigators be licensed? Quite simply, licensing legitimizes the profession. Licensing gives the public the ability to report investigator misconduct. Currently, there is no structure in place to standardize the profession. Many of us do consider private investigations as a profession. Private investigations is not just a job, a hobby, an interest, or a pastime. It’s a profession. Attorneys are required to be licensed. Private investigators frequently work cases for attorneys. We are often times asked to testify at legal proceedings. How do judges, juries, attorneys, or clients know whether the private investigator is free of criminal records? How does the court know if the investigator testifying in a sensitive, legal case is legitimate?

When I am out on a surveillance, there are two things that I pull out when I am approached by a law enforcement officer: my driver’s license and my PI license. I want to have the police officer know as quickly as possible at I am there for a legitimate purpose. A business card will not help me do that. When I am requesting a record from a court clerk or record custodian, I show my PI license card.
I’m also passionate and dedicated to being a good and upstanding business owner.  I took the slow route of learning the profession from the ground up, over many years of practice, long hours and perseverance before starting my own agency. Since I started my agency, I’ve done everything in a legitimate and legal manner. I’ve maintained an active business registration in good standing since the start of my company in 2006. I know for a fact that some investigators have expired registrations and continue to maintain PI websites and solicit PI work. Legitimizing the profession will help deter this behavior.
There are 44 other states that have mandatory licensing. Many times, a colleague in another state is looking to refer a case to an PI in Colorado. The vast majority of the time, those investigators want a Colorado PI to display proof of being licensed. How will we do that if voluntary licensure is repealed? I have unquestionably received cases as a result of having my voluntary license. Is it because I had a marketing advantage? I don’t believe so. I believe it has everything to do with consumer confidence. My existing clients know the quality of my work, but how is a first time potential client supposed to know whether I am experienced and legitimate? Mentioning a license gives them a much grater degree of assurance of that.
I have heard stories from both clients as well as other investigators of PI’s taking cases for cash, and not providing an invoice of services. Are these investigators reporting all of their income? That is difficult for me to say, but again, legitimizing the profession will help expose those who are involved in this practice and will certainly deter those individuals, or risk jeopardizing their licenses.
I’ve heard stories of investigators attempting to blackmail clients, or in extreme cases the subject of the investigation themselves, by threatening a deliberate breach of confidentiality. Is this behavior being reported? Likely not. Legitimizing the profession will help deter this behavior.

Several years ago, I had a private party call me and ask if I could conduct surveillance on his ex-wife. He stated that they were divorced, but he planned on getting back together with her. He said he was suspicious of his ex-wife’s fidelity, and wanted to determine if she was in a relationship with another man. The private party sounded nervous and tense over the phone, and had no legal purpose for the surveillance request. I had so many red flags, I knew from the beginning of the phone call that I would not accept the case. However, before I let the private party know that, he had mentioned some specific details, such as his name and the town where his ex-wife lived. Less than a week later, I heard the news on television that this person had killed his ex-wife, killed a male friend she was with, and killed himself. I immediately contacted the police in the jurisdiction to inform them of this individual’s phone call to my agency. The police had me fill out a statement. The police statement is not something that can be readily located without knowing specifically where to look. How many cases are out there like this? Did the individual eventually hire a PI to conduct surveillance on his ex-wife? Who knows. The dead don’t talk. Let’s legitimize this profession so these incidents can be more readily reported, and thus located.

The licensing of private investigators is long overdue. I ask, who would you rather use, a licensed attorney, or one who isn’t? Exactly why are barbers and plumbers allowed to be licensed, and yet private investigators have been rejected time after time? Imagine how difficult it would be to find a qualified, educated, professional attorney free of criminal records, without licensing in place. Imagine the fear of not having licensing in place for teachers, where pedophiles and felons could teach children without a system in place to screen these individuals out. Perhaps businesses and the general public would still be able to identify qualified individuals through background checks, but why should that burden be exclusively on business owners and the general public? By the way, those background checks that businesses have to undergo to find qualified candidates free of criminal records – many of those background checks are performed by private investigators. Why should private investigators with felonies and serious misdemeanors be allowed to masquerade themselves alongside law abiding, professional investigators? Let’s legitimize the profession and allow it to move forward. Let’s give consumers the confidence and assurance they need to hire a private investigator in the first place.

For more information on the most recent licensing bill introduced in the Colorado legislature, please visit