Rent-a-Spook: private detective school
What do private detectives actually do? Well, they don’t spend all their time solving murders. The police tend to deal with that. In reality what private detectives do is work that the police won’t or can’t do, don’t have time and resources for, have failed at, or are not required to do. PIs are also often employed by people who for various reasons do not want the police to be involved. And they are not all men. An estimated 15% are female, and women can make better PIs than men for certain types of work.
PI work can include background investigation and research, particularly in employment situations where an individual needs to be thoroughly vetted for a post of high security or trust. A PI might also be involved in tracing missing people such as runaway juveniles, old friends or debtors. They might be employed by a company to detect internal theft or accounts and payroll manipulation. They might work for insurance companies to investigate insurance fraud, snoop on medical professionals for medical malpractice, or engage in surveillance for marital investigations. In all cases they must conduct their work ethically and legally.
One thing from the movies and TV dramas that’s true is that PI work can sometimes be dangerous, and private eyes need to know how to defend themselves, make arrests and deal with anything that kicks off during the course of their work.
‘Meeting the Threat of Danger’ is one of the areas covered by the Detective Training Institute in their 3 to 6 month online courses. They also teach you how to protect yourself against crossing any legal lines. One notable historical case saw the PI Anthony Pellicano serving thirty months in prison for illegal possession of explosives, firearms and homemade grenades. But then he was a bit over the top as a PI, having also been convicted of racketeering and wiretapping. You don’t want to end up like him, so the DTI gives you a good background in knowing what your rights are and aren’t as a PI.
There is also a lot of work these days in technical surveillance counter-measures, such as clearing bugs from boardrooms and neutralising other forms of electronic surveillance. There’s also plenty of work for experts in computer forensics. Some of the tools you might get to use that do sometimes appear in movies include hidden cameras, bug detectors, surveillance vans with discreet periscopes on top, disguised electrical and utility boxes for unmanned surveillance, and more cool stuff that’s actually real.
The DTI sets a path before you towards becoming a qualified P.I., but licensing in the U.S. varies from state to state. In Idaho, Mississippi and South Dakota all you need to practice is a city business licence, but in Virginia it takes several years of training, classes and testing. So choose your turf carefully or it could be a long wait till you hang out your shingle and hit the streets as a private eye.