Private Investigator vs Detective: What’s the Difference?

There are just under three and a half full-time police officers for every 1,000 U.S. residents, according to the Department of Justice.

Those figures include sworn and unsworn personnel but don’t include private investigators. PIs work for private citizens, lawyers, insurance companies, and other parties.

These sleuths can sometimes seem interchangeable. However, there are several things to consider when examining a private investigator vs detective.

Not least of these differences can see a suspect put in handcuffs on the spot!

In the following article, we’ll look at how a PI stacks up to a detective.

Private Investigator Basics

Private investigators are sometimes called detectives, but that is not exactly the case. Although a private eye might do “detective” work, the difference really lies in their employer.

Private investigators work for attorneys, businesses, and private citizens. Often they investigate personal, legal, and financial matters for their clients. Locating people, surveillance, and digging through finances are the PIs bread and butter. This work can also lead to irregular hours (one of the hardest parts of the job!)

The vast majority of private investigators’ work will end in civil litigation or matrimonial matters. Also, many people turn to a private investigator to search for missing people. Often, local authorities don’t have jurisdiction or the resources to work missing person cases.

Police Detective Basics

One of the biggest differences between private investigators and detectives are their employers. Police detectives belong and are employed by a local, state, or federal law enforcement agency.

Police detectives almost exclusively work on criminal cases. They have the power to arrest suspects. Police detectives also interview witnesses, suspects, and experts in the pursuit of justice.

The hours are often just as erratic for a police detective as for a private investigator, but the median salary is substantially better — $83,170. The median salary for a private investigator is $50,510.

Police officers generally have excellent benefits. They also have generous pensions. For this reason, you may find many retired police detectives become private investigators.

While the hours sometimes stink for private investigators, they still get to decide which cases they take and are their own bosses. You can’t say the same for police officers who have sworn an oath to serve and protect all the citizens.

Education Needed for Private Investigator vs Detective

Detectives typically need to serve as a uniformed officer for several years. They also need to meet specific training requirements before promotion. Local departments often have minimum education requirements. Applicants generally need to have completed some sort of military service.

The licensing requirements for private investigators vary from state to state. Only five states don’t require a license.

Career Path

Really, the private investigator vs detective discussion lies in the realm of career trajectory. Detectives are usually veterans of their departments. They have earned the right to pursue leadership and senior roles. PIs are often retired police officers looking to set their own hours or earn extra income.

Either way, both occupations can help you search out the truth in your criminal or civil case.

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