What are the requirements for becoming a licensed private investigator in Texas? I often compare the process of becoming a licensed private investigator to the NFL or WNBA draft. Once you’re selected by a firm and complete the appropriate paperwork, you will be licensed for two years. So even if your first firm terminates you, you’ll still be licensed and can start at another firm on the same day they hire you.
The very first private investigator that hired me, a former LAPD Sergeant, fired me after two weeks. It was a righteous fire and I don’t blame him for it. I left a surveillance assignment for a personal reason and a surveillance, once begun, must continue with one’s full attention the entire time.
Private investigators serve clients as opposed to the government. They often work on their own but sometimes in pairs or small groups. The largest team I ever led had five PI’s, two researchers and two admins. Although it looks like our next case will surpass that.
Getting Started as a Texas Private Investigator
One of the most important things to understand about your new career as a Texas private investigator, especially in your rookie years (years 1-2), is that you will often be on your own. At times you will only have yourself to rely on. This is one of many reasons I advocate for in-person training. In-person training is the only real way to learn, observe, and practice private investigator skills.
In Texas, the most common way to become a private investigator is by joining a firm that will support your license. Very few people get licensed without joining a firm, but it’s a much longer process.
Requirements to Become a Texas Private Investigator
There are a few requirements that everyone should be aware of to become a Texas private investigator:
- At least 18 years old
- U.S. Citizen
- Can pass a background check (ie. no felonies or certain misdemeanors)
If you want to start your own firm, then the requirements are much more significant. A combination of education, training, and experience is needed. Some of the “shoe-ins” include: former cops, former detectives, former Feds, former agency personnel, former military analysts, those with criminal justice degrees, insurance investigators, and anyone who has worked in a related field.
But if you don’t have a background that is relevant, it’s still do-able and I highly encourage you to do it. I love being a Texas Private Investigator. It’s the best job on the planet.
State of Texas Professional Private Investigator Requirements
According to the Texas Association of Licensed Investigators (TALI.org), our professional association, the requirements are:
An agency must have a qualified manager who has to have a minimum 3 years of experience (or a combination of higher education and experience), pass a written exam and show proof of liability insurance. If the person does not qualify as the manager/owner, they will have to locate an agency that will hire and train them as a private investigator. To be licensed as a private investigator, you must be 18 years of age or older with no criminal history (see specific requirements). Again, it is like applying for any other job and you must find a licensed agency that will hire and train you as a private investigator if you do not meet the requirements to own your own agency.
To operate in Texas, a private investigation agency must have a qualifying manager that directly supervises the agency and investigators licensed under their company. This manager must have experience and qualifications that meet one of the following:
- Three (3) consecutive years of investigation-related experience
- A bachelor’s degree in criminal justice; a bachelor’s degree, with an additional six months of investigation-related experience
- An associate degree in criminal justice or related course of study, with an additional twelve months of investigation-related experience; or a specialized course of study directly designed for and related to the private investigations profession, taught and presented through affiliation with a four-year college or university accredited and recognized by the State of Texas. This course of study must be endorsed by the four-year college or university’s department of criminal justice program and include a departmental faculty member(s) on its instructional faculty. This course of study must consist of a minimum of two hundred face-to-face classroom hours including coverage of ethics, Private Security Board administrative rules, the Private Security Act, and related statutes. Other combinations of education and investigation-related experience may be substituted for the above at the discretion of the Bureau manager. The bachelor’s degrees, associate degrees, and specialized courses referenced in section (a) of this rule must be affiliated with a college or university recognized by the Texas Higher Education Coordination Board, Southern Association of Schools and Colleges or other accreditation organization recognized by the State of Texas.
After meeting the qualifications for the manager, the person must register to take the manager’s exam with the Private Security Bureau. Upon successful completion of the written exam, the person must show proof of liability insurance.
Qualifying Private Investigator
Upon qualifying as the manager/owner of the agency, the manager can hire other individuals that can operate as private investigators under their agency after they meet the manager’s requirements (including the requirements below). To be licensed and employed by a licensed company as a private investigator, a person must meet all the requirements set forth in Texas Occupations Code 1702.113, summarized in part (but not in whole) below. The person must:
- Be at least 18 years of age;
- Not have been convicted, in any jurisdiction, of a felony-level offense;
- Not have been convicted, in any jurisdiction, of Class A or equivalent misdemeanor;
- Not have been convicted, within the past 5 years, in any jurisdiction, of a Class B misdemeanor or equivalent offense;
- Not currently charged with, or under indictment for, a felony, or a Class A misdemeanor;
- Not currently charged with, a Class B misdemeanor;
- Not have been found by a court to be incompetent by reason of a mental defect or disease and not have been restored to competency;
- Not have been dishonorably discharged from the United States armed services, discharged from the United States armed services under other conditions determined by the Board to be prohibitive, or dismissed by the United States armed services if a commissioned office in the United States armed services;
- Not be required to register in this or any other state as a sex offender.
(reprinted with permission, see TALI.org for more information)
The Importance of In-Person Private Investigator Training:
Let’s take an example of why in-person training is important. Two concepts that we teach in our introductory course, Surveillance 101, aka “SURF SCHOOL” are:
- The “3-2-1”
- The “Squeeze”
The “3-2-1”, also known as the “1-2-3”, is the 3-set of pics one should take of any important subject, event, location, or object.
One shot should be a close-up. The next shot should be a medium shot that shows the primary subject or object relative to other things such as a vehicle or a phone booth or a person.. The third shot should be far enough back to clearly identify the location and this means including a street sign, an address, an identifiable house or building, or something else. The absolute best way to learn the “3-2-1” is by practice and observation of quality examples. Then, screw it up! The best learning always comes from mistakes.
The “Squeeze” is the very few seconds one has to take a picture. And it may be the only opportunity to take that picture in 12-hour surveillance. I once surveilled a house with a Ford F-150 truck at the top of a short, but steep driveway. When the subject finally came out of the house, they walked to their truck and got in, started the engine, reversed down the driveway onto the street, switched to drive, and moved down the street towards me.
Guess how long it took the subject to do that?
Keep in mind I had been watching for four hours which is 240 minutes or 14,400 seconds. So my job was to watch 100% of the time in case the subject came out and departed. I needed a picture of him, his vehicle, and ideally with the location in the background..
So how long did it take for him to do all that I described? 11.5 seconds. And most of that was walking to his vehicle. Once he started down the driveway, it was 3.5 seconds before he was driving forward toward me!
Out of the 14,400 seconds that I had his vehicle under surveillance, only 11.5 seconds of that really mattered! That’s what we call the “Squeeze”. You’ll want to learn it in person and practice it with a pro.
We limit our classes to 7 students per instructor and we do this so that each student will have the maximum time to ask questions. Because once you’re out on your own, who is there to ask?
Another reason to do in-person training, is that you will meet other rookies or anyone who is just starting as a PI. The people in our classes spend a few days together, working on real cases and live exercises. It’s a fun bonding experience that can create life-long or at least career-long friendships.
Our last class included a US Army OSINT expert with 17 years of experience, a former FBI analyst also with about 17 years of experience, a cop with 20 years of experience, and two completely fresh rookies. By the end of our course, everyone had exchanged contact details. Two were working on a project together within weeks. This kind of connection doesn’t happen online.
If you are interested in private investigator training, check out our course schedule here: StriderPI Training Schedule.
Becoming a Texas PI is a long journey, but it’s worth it. Good luck!