By Dave Amis
This article will give you an action plan to become a Texas Private Investigator. It answers the question “how to become a Private Investigator?”, with a focus on needed skills. Let’s get to it.
There are four levels of investigative skills and each supports the next one. There are life skills such as using the computer, basic investigator skills such as investigative photography, foundational skills such as surveillance, and finally specialized skills such as homicide investigations. People with certain life skills such as driving or street smarts have an early advantage. But there are so many niches in the PI world, hundreds of them, that it’s possible to become a PI and develop highly valuable skills in a unique area no matter what initial skills you have.
For example, I know Private Investigators that have few skills but are successful doing only one thing. Examples include: online research, oil device tampering, surveillance, and evidentiary photography. I personally think the best investigators are non-stop learners who have a large “bag of tricks” they can draw from for success in whatever case they are working. If they don’t have a large bag of tricks, then the next best thing is a large network of investigators with complimentary skills.
Let’s look at the two most important foundational skills: SURVEILLANCE and OSINT. Without these, any PI is limited in the kinds of cases they can work. SURVEILLANCE is the act of physically watching or following someone. It’s sometimes referred to as “gumshoe” work and is pretty much what PI’s have been doing since the beginning of time, going all the way backto Rome. OSINT stands for “open source intelligence” which means using the computer to find out about a subject. So surveillance is the physical “live action” element while OSINT is the ‘stay-at-home and use the computer” part. Together they are a powerful combination. I recommend learning both.
What’s needed to become good at either SURVEILLANCE or OSINT? Check the Trapezoid. Basic investigative skills include photography, vehicle management and report writing for SURVEILLANCE. Research, Locates, and Deep Research are the important skills needed just to begin working in OSINT. After learning these basic investigative skills, hundreds of hours of study and experience are needed to get good at it. If you want to be an expert, then thousands of hours are needed. But don’t stress. It’s as Sun Tzu once said, “the journey of a thousand leagues begins with a single step”. Was he talking about investigators? He could have been.
People often ask “how do I become a Private Investigator as fast as possible?” The answer is to develop the skills needed for one of the oldest skills – finding out if a spouse is cheating! In the PI world it’s called an “infidelity” or a “cheating spouse” investigation, but at STRIDER we use the term “fidelity” because we’re optimists. Either way, we need to maintain the neutral objectivity of a professional investigator. “Just the facts” as Sgt. Friday used to say (probably before your time).
So one way to get started in the PI profession is to learn surveillance and then “practice” by taking fidelity cases. Fidelity/Infidelity cases are relatively safe. Would you rather start your career following cartel hitmen or the average husband or wife who is relatively unaware? Trust me, start with the latter. The skills needed to do surveillance are manageable and can be learned in under 50 hours – at least enough to get started.
While I said that Infidelity cases are relatively safe, I did have one situation in which we told the client that we were watching his wife in real time. We told him we saw her get in the car with another man in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant in Austin. Then he went dark. “Dark” means non-communicative. I told my PI on the scene (aka the “primary”) that the client was likely enroute. Sure enough, he showed up and confronted his wife. Fortunately, no one was hurt and we re-learned a lesson we already knew; do not provide real-time updates to clients on cases where there is strong emotion!
In this article we have presented one fast start option for you as a new PI – fidelity investigations. More important, the STRIDER TRAPEZOID will help you see how to become a Private Investigator from the 10,000-foot level. There are four levels of skills, no more. Take an inventory of yourself, consider what you want to do, and make a plan to become the kind of investigator you want to be. It’s do-able and I wish you great success.
See HOW TO REALLY TO BECOME A PI – Part 2 for more information.