So, you want to be a man (or woman) of mystery?
Have you ever wondered how to become a private investigator? The Texas Department of Public Safety, Private Security Bureau (PSB) is the single-best resource for information, as it is the agency responsible for regulating private investigations agencies, agency owners, and the PIs that work for them. Being able to legally conduct investigative services in the State of Texas requires an individual to be affiliated with a licensed agency or to open an agency of their own. For those individuals who do not yet possess the education or experience requirements to open their own agency, becoming affiliated with another licensed agency and working under their supervision is one way to get the experience you need to open your own firm.
If you are interested in becoming a private investigator but don’t have any active job prospects with established PI agencies, you may consider going into business for yourself.
In this post, we will go over the necessary steps to get your license or endorsement to legally work as a private investigator in the State of Texas. Consult the laws in your state for more specific requirements where you live.
Step 1. Make Sure You Meet the Minimum Basic Requirements
Whether you want to start out working for an established private investigations agency or you are ready to branch out and establish one of your own, there are a few fundamental requirements you must meet in order to become registered in Texas.
Consult this checklist to ensure you meet all the basic requirements:
- You are at least 18 years old
- You have never been convicted of a felony in any jurisdiction
- You have not been convicted in the past five years of a Class B misdemeanor in any jurisdiction
- You are not currently charged with or under indictment for a Class A misdemeanor or felony
- You are not currently charged with a Class B misdemeanor
- You have never been found incompetent due to mental defect or disease by a court
- You are not required to register in Texas or any other jurisdiction as a sex offender
- You have never been dishonorably discharged from U.S. military service
If you consult the Texas Occupational Code, it states that:
RULE §35.121 Investigations Company License (a) Pursuant to the Act, the department has determined that an applicant for licensure as a private investigations company or the prospective manager of the applicant company must meet one of the qualifications detailed in this section:
- Three (3) consecutive years of investigation related experience;
- A bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or related course of study;
- A bachelor’s degree with twelve (12) months of investigation related experience;
- An associate degree in criminal justice or related course of study, with twenty-four (24) months of investigation related experience;
- A specialized course of study directly designed for and related to the private investigation profession, taught and presented through affiliation with a four (4) year college or university accredited and recognized by the State of Texas. This course of study must be endorsed by the four (4) 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 (200) instructional hours including coverage of ethics, the Act, and this chapter;
- Other combinations of education and investigation-related experience may be substituted for the above at the discretion of the department or its designated representative. (b) The degrees referenced in subsection (a) of this section must be affiliated with a college or university recognized by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, or other accreditation organization recognized by the State of Texas.
Step 2. Ensure You Meet the Education and Experience Requirements
If you plan to work for a private investigation company:
You must be sponsored by a private investigations agency licensed in Texas before you can apply for registration as a private investigator. This either means that you must be employed by or have a firm job offer from a private investigative agency licensed in Texas.
Employers will always look for the most qualified candidates, so in the absence of law enforcement, military or investigative experience, you may consider earning an undergraduate degree in criminal justice or a related field.
Degree options available at schools in Texas include:
- Bachelor in Business Administration – Legal Studies
- Bachelor of Science-Criminal Justice
- Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice- Homeland Security and Emergency Management
- Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice – Human Services
Private Investigations work is VERY competitive and the more education and/or experience you can bring to the table, the better off and more competitive you’ll be. Depending on the agency and what services they offer, some skills will be more in demand than others.
If you want to work for an agency that specializes in surveillance, for example, then photography and videography skills will be in very high demand, as well as the ability to speak and write clearly. An agency that specializes in skip traces and background checks will be looking for applicants with skills in computers and OSINT. So, make sure you research the agency you apply to and that your skills line up with the kinds of investigations they do.
If you plan to start your own private investigation company:
If you wish to open your own licensed private investigative agency in Texas, you must meet the qualifications to become a private investigation company owner/manager. This means you must meet ONE of the following combined education and experience requirements:
- Three years of private investigation experience
- Bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related field
- Bachelor’s degree in any field, plus six months of investigative experience
- Associate degree in criminal justice or a related field plus one year of investigative experience
- Specialized private investigator training (200 hours minimum)
Step 3. Register your New PI Agency or Become Registered with an Existing Agency
If you plan to work for a private investigation company …
If you are applying for initial private investigator registration in Texas, your employer will gather your personal information, have you complete the Original Registration Application Supplement and use the online application system to submit an application for your registration with the Texas Department of Public Safety, Private Security Bureau (PSB) as an employee of the agency. Becoming registered involves submitting fingerprints that will be used for an FBI background check.
After completing the online registration process and paying the application fee, your employer will be issued a receipt with instructions on how to go about getting your fingerprints taken along with a list of third-party locations approved for electronic fingerprinting in Texas.
When your FBI background check clears and you have been approved by the Texas Department of Public Safety, Private Security Bureau, your private investigator license will be mailed to your employer’s place of business.
If you plan to start a private investigation company …
If you are registering a new PI company, you will need to submit a PSB-01 Company License Application Form. This will involve having your company name approved to ensure it isn’t being used by another business in Texas. You are allowed to simply use your own name, and may choose to do so whether working independently or hiring employees.
The company license application also involves identifying all owners/partners/shareholders and the ownership structure of the company (sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, LLC or LLP). The application fee for a new business registration is $350.
If submitting online, you must wait 24 hours after completing your company application before submitting your individual owner/manager application. As the owner of the PI company, you must submit the Original Owner/Manager Application or apply online and submit the Online Owner/Manager Application Supplement.
You will then need to submit:
- $33 owner/manager application fee
- $25 FBI classification fee and two completed fingerprint cards or a receipt from electronic fingerprinting (Use these instructions for fingerprinting and consult this list to find electronic fingerprinting sites in Texas)
If sent by mail, payment must be made by check or money order payable to the Texas Department of Public Safety. All applications and fees submitted by mail must include a PSB-50 form. If applying online, fees are payable by credit card.
If you are applying by mail, send all of the above to the Texas Department of Public Safety, Private Security MSC 0242, P.O. Bo 15999, Austin, TX 78761-5999
You must also pass the Qualified Manager Exam within 90 days of submitting your application. This exam is administered at various DPS facilities around the state about three to five times each month. It is a two-hour, multiple-choice and true-false exam made up of 100 questions. You must get at least 70 questions correct to pass the exam. Your results will be sent to you about 30 days after you take the exam. Do not take this exam lightly. Many people fail it the first time because they underestimate how thorough the exam is.
As company owner, you will also be required to show proof of adequate liability insurance using the Certificate of Liability Insurance Form. Liability insurance will run you about $550/year and is mandatory to renew and maintain your business license.
Step 4. That’s it. You are now a Registered Private Investigator or PI Agency Owner in Texas
Well done! You have met all the requirements and completed the process to become a registered private investigator with an established agency, or a private investigative agency owner/manager!
Your agency registration must be renewed online each year and a fee of $350 must be paid.
As an employee of an established PI agency, your employer will handle the registration renewal for you using the Request for Renewal of Employee form PSB-17.
If you are the owner/manager of the PI agency, you will use the Request for Renewal of Owner/Manager form PSB-18.
As a PI employed with an established agency or agency manager/owner, you will be required to complete continuing education (CE) requirements in order to renew your registration and continue working legally in Texas.
As a registered private investigator employed with a licensed agency, or a participating owner/manager that has been registered for LESS than 15 consecutive years, you are required to complete 18 total hours of continuing education:
- 14 hours must be related to investigations
- 2 hours must be specific to ethics
- 2 hours must be in review of the Texas Private Security Act
As a registered private investigator employed with a licensed agency, or a participating owner/manager that has been registered for MORE than 15 consecutive years, you are required to complete 12 total hours of continuing education:
- 8 hours must be related to investigations
- 2 hours must be specific to ethics
- 2 hours must be in review of the Texas Private Security Act
You must receive your CE from a PSB-approved provider.
And that’s it! If you follow these steps, you will be in full compliance and can legally work as a private investigator in the State of Texas. Now, go out and do what you do, you man (or woman) of mystery.
Much of the content in this article was from an article that appeared elsewhere. Credit where credit is due.
Shaun is the owner of Red Door Investigations. He has a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Texas at Arlington and is a licensed pilot and certified scuba instructor.