A private investigator is someone who is trained in the art of investigation and, in most states, is licensed to conduct investigations on someone else’s behalf for compensation. Private investigators gather information on behalf of another individual, business or law firm and most often has a signed retainer agreement, contract or other letter of authority from the client authorizing his or her inquiry.
What is the difference between a Private Investigator and Law Enforcement?
One way to answer the question “What is a private investigator?” is to state what a private investigator is not. A private investigator is not a law enforcement officer. A law enforcement officer is hired by a government agency to investigate criminal matters as opposed to civil matters. Police investigations are conducted by sworn law enforcement officers and done within the constraints of Constitutional laws. The investigation is conducted to determine if a crime has been committed, to determine who committed the crime and to gather enough evidence to present to a prosecutor for a trial.
A private investigator is an average citizen who is hired by an individual to investigate matters. Private investigators are not restricted to criminal investigations like police officers; as a private investigator you will commonly be investigating civil matters as well. These matters include but are not limited to infidelity investigations, background investigations, asset location investigations, or fraudulent insurance claims. Private investigators may uncover criminal violations, but work at the behest of their clients not a law enforcement agency or body.
As investigators we are in the information business; in relentless pursuit of the truth. Clients of course may not always want to hear the truth, but as a private investigator it is your essential job function to collect the facts, not withholding any of those facts (good or bad), use sound reasoning and judgment and develop a factual account or conclusion from the information you have collected. The end result of your investigation should always explain the fundamentals: what happened, who was involved, when and where it occurred and most importantly, why it happened.
As an investigator you will be required to “think outside of the box”, make quick decisions, be creative and deal with a very wide variety of people in the process. A private investigator must be detailed; someone who is an excellent note taker, a researcher, a great communicator and someone who takes great care to remain within the law. Keep in mind that many investigators spend time away from their offices, maintain irregular hours, and conduct assignments that can sometimes be arduous and mundane. In addition, some of your work may be confrontational, stressful and even dangerous.
Ultimately, regardless of the complexity or nature of the investigation, private investigators essentially perform only a few basic functions in developing the evidence upon which our final report to the client rests (though the varying level of difficulty of each is what makes the job interesting):
We talk to people. (Interviewing and Taking Statements)
We find people. (Skip Tracing)
We watch people. (Surveillance)
We ask about people. (Background Investigations)
These are the four cornerstones of the business of private investigation in its purest definition and the rest of this manual has been developed with these concepts in mind
This article is excerpted from our 70-hour Georgia Private Detective Pre-License Training Class a course mandated by the Georgia Board of Private Detectives and Security Agencies as a prerequisite to obtaining a Georgia private investigator license. For more info on this course see: