At first glance, it appears that a police investigator and private investigator perform very similar work. Although there is some overlap, these two professions are quite different. Before you hire a private investigator, it is important to understand what he or she can do.

What Does a Private Investigator Do?

Before examining the differences between police investigators vs private investigators, it is helpful to understand what a private investigator does. Their work involves fact-finding for personal, legal, financial and other matters. This may involve running background checks, finding missing persons and investigating fraud.

Many private investigators are self-employed. Others work for insurance companies, law firms, the government or for private investigation firms.

You may wonder: do private investigators work with police? Yes, they do sometimes. They also collect evidence that can be used in court, conduct surveillance and search records. In short, if someone wants to know more about a person, organization or activity, hiring a private investigator is a good option.

How Does Their Work Differ From Police Investigators?

Although private investigators work with the police sometimes, their work is often different. Police investigators exclusively investigate crimes, whereas a private investigator may look into civil and other matters.

When a police investigator gathers evidence, he or she is doing so to either find a suspect or build a case. Their goal is to solve crimes and help the state prosecute criminals by providing government attorneys with appropriate evidence.

A private investigator may perform similar work but primarily focuses on gathering the information his or her client needs. Furthermore, most private investigators’ work is not in the criminal space.

What Can a Police Investigator Do That a Private Investigator Can’t?

The police have some special privileges and obligations. Their goal is to enforce the law and they do so on behalf of the state. When a crime occurs, police investigators are allowed to go to the crime scene, collect evidence, question witnesses and take statements. A private investigator can only do these things with the permission of law enforcement.

Police investigators can also arrest suspects, issue citations and otherwise take actions to address criminal activity. A private investigator can only gather information.

Of course, police investigators are also employees of either the local, state or federal government. They are obligated to take on cases and enforce laws. This means they often can’t spend much time investigating any cases other than major crimes. Conversely, a private investigator can continue to investigate for a client provided that the client wants him or her to and can afford it.

Therefore, while police investigators have special privileges, private investigators can often devote more time and attention to personal and civil matters. For example, the police typically can’t do a lot for a missing-persons case unless there is evidence of a serious crime. A private investigator, on the other hand, can thoroughly investigate, even if it appears that the person is missing by their own choice.

How Is Private Investigator Training Different From Police Training?

Private investigators need to understand how to gather and analyze evidence much like police investigators. Additionally, they need to understand the law. Private investigators need to be versed in the laws that govern what they can and can’t do. If you hire one, he or she will not break the law to work your case.

Many private investigators have prior law enforcement experience. Working in law enforcement can be stressful and sometimes very upsetting. There is no requirement to have prior law enforcement experience, however some companies may require this before hiring an investigator to their team.

Police Investigator vs Private Investigators

There are a few parallels between police and private investigators. People in both professions gather and analyze evidence to understand the facts of a case. Some private investigators may even have worked as police investigators previously.

However, private investigators may work on a range of matters whereas police only concern themselves with public safety and criminal law. Additionally, although private investigators sometimes work with the police, they do not have the same powers. With this information in mind, hopefully, you are better prepared to know what to expect when you hire a private investigator.