This is a step-by-step guide for anyone who wants to become a private investigator in Texas.
I have been a Texas PI for four years but it took me two years just to get started. So I know how difficult it is. Part of the reason for this difficulty is that some of the official sources are using outdated information. Another reason is that most PI’s are one-man or one-woman bands, meaning they are unlikely to hire anyone.
HISTORY OF PRIVATE INVESTIGATORS
Back when PI’s started being PI’s and many say this happened about 1860 with Alan Pinkerton in Chicago being the first and greatest PI of his generation, it was a sort of standard that a new PI had to learn from an old one.
In Texas, this eventually led to statutes that required a new private investigator to work for an old private investigator for three consecutive years. It was essentially an apprentice system. One can imagine the benefits and drawbacks of that. If the new PI was fired or quit, they had to start over!
I know one old PI who actually worked under this system. He told me he was paid $10/hour for three years! The old system of three years of training is alive and well in many of the information sources about Texas Private Investigators even though it is not a requirement anymore.
In addition, many of the requirements you will read about relate to those who will be starting their own agencies. If you only want to work as a PI, that can happen quickly if you find a firm that will hire you.
THE THREE ORGANIZATIONS NEW PI’S WANT TO KNOW ABOUT
There are three organizations that matter for Texas PI’s. They are:
TOPS – this is the regulatory agency that oversees private investigators in Texas. I have interacted with them many times and they are actually quite efficient. Don’t be intimated by how many times you may have to hit a button or how many departments there are. That’s pretty standard for the government!
You can find them here: https://tops.portal.texas.gov/psp-self-service
DPS – the Department of Public Safety provides enforcement of Texas PI rules and regulations.
A lot of PI’s complain that they spend all of their time harassing the PI’s who are licensed but do nothing about the PI’s who are not licensed. I did have someone pretending to be me at one point and this individual had made up their own business cards. I called the local S.O. but they didn’t have time to look into it.
TALI – the Texas Association of Licensed Investigators is the professional association for our profession. TALI runs three annual conferences, one big one and two smaller “regional” ones.
You can find them here: https://tali.org/ I previously served as the Treasurer so I know many of the board members and even the President. TALI is a great place to start. I highly recommend attending the conferences and meeting as many PI’s as you can.
You apply to TOPS to start your own PI firm or to get licensed as a Private Investigator. If you set up your own firm, DPS will audit you, normally once every two years. TALI will help you connect with other PI’s and get CE credits.
That’s it in a nutshell!
There’s a fourth organization that helps new PI’s to get started – our company, STRIDERPI.
We help new PI’s get started by giving them their foundational skills: surveillance, computer investigations, criminal investigations, and undercover operations. So check us out.
Let’s keep going with the “step-by-step”.
- Get your training, education, and experience – this can be something you do for years or months. If you have been a cop, an insurance adjustor, or a military OSINT analyst, then you already have a lot of relevant skills.
But if you are “brand new brand new”, as one of my rookies used to say, then you will want to make a plan to develop enough skills to work in your first PI niche.
- Check out all of the training options you can find on the internet. I always recommend that new PI’s start with surveillance and basic OSINT. But ask around and make your own plan.
- Attend any of the conferences. Talk to as many PI’s as you can. Most are very friendly and will give you their opinion. A few are a bit closed-minded, but oh well. That’s the way the world works.
- Once you have enough training to accept say, a fidelity surveillance mission, then approach PI firms about getting either an internship or a job. For those of you with lots of relevant experience, there is likely a firm that will want you. For those of you that are “brand new brand new”, it might make more sense to look for an internship. At StriderPI, we help our students do field training which is very similar.
A LITTLE STORY OF GETTING STARTED (AND FIRED)
When I first became a PI, I was offered work with a former ICE Agent who specialized in criminal defense. I really admire that lady. She offered me $20/hour which made me smile. She said, “I usually pay $15 but in your case, I’ll pay a little more.” Before becoming a PI, I had been a CEO, a consultant, and a cop and earned a bit more. But that was my start!
One of our first cases involved a gangbanger who had passed a stolen check worth about $600. It was an indigent case meaning he couldn’t afford a defense. The case came to me. I interviewed him at his apartment and learned that another gangbanger had given him the check. Eventually, I tracked that individual to a state prison and he was willing to admit to it to get his buddy off. I also showed that he worked near the location near the mailbox where the check was when it was initially stolen. The charges were dropped against my client.
After about 25 cases, my boss, the former ICE Agent, invited me to lunch and fired me. “But you said my work was great….” “Yes” she replied. “You’ve been doing excellent work.” “Then why fire me?” I asked. “Because you ask too many questions. I just want to send the assignment and get the result.”
I learned a lot from and will always be grateful for my time learning criminal defense. But at the end of the day, it wasn’t a niche I wanted to be in. So I moved on.
A COUPLE MORE STEPS
- Keep at it until you find the job you want or the niche you want to be in. There may be setbacks. It’s not easy getting started as a PI. So you have to keep at it.
- Don’t worry about getting licensed. Any firm that hires you will take care of that for you. There’s some paperwork back and forth and DPS has the final say. But if you don’t have any felonies or significant issues, you should be fine.
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