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Oregon private investigators: careers, schools, training

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Although Oregon doesn’t have formal education requirements to become a private detective, private investigators in Oregon must be licensed and complete 32 hours of continuing education for every two-year licensing period. This ongoing education is important to keep your skills up to date and to learn about updates to laws and legislation.

In this Article

How to become a private investigator in Oregon

Meet the basic state requirements.

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To get a private investigator license in Oregon, you must meet the following requirements:

– You must be at least 18 years old.
– You must be a U.S. citizen.
– You must have 1,500 hours of experience doing investigative work, or a combination of work experience and up to 500 hours of job-specific education.
– You must have a passing score on the Oregon test of investigator competency.

A common course of study for private investigators is a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. With an approved transcript, the State of Oregon will subtract 500 hours from the required experience.

Complete the necessary education and training.

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Before submitting your application, candidates must perform up to 1,500 hours of investigative training and field work. However, candidates may be able to reduce up to a third of their training hours with job-specific education such as a pursuing a degree in criminal justice or law enforcement. The remainder of the required hours can be completed under an apprentice status. Applicants can contact private investigation agencies within the state in an attempt to find apprenticeship opportunities.

Complete and submit your state application.

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After completing your training and education, applicants must submit several fees and forms to the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training.

For new private investigators, the application process can be tedious. Candidates should anticipate the application process to last between six and eight months. There are multiple applications, forms and fees required to earn your private investigator license in Oregon. These include:

– Complete the initial PI-1 application
– Provide $5,000 in credit in the form of a surety bond, irrevocable letter of credit from the bank or in the form of errors & omissions insurance.
– Submit your fingerprints and receive your fingerprint ID card
– Submit three different letters of professional recommendation (these may not contain personal references)
– Provide two passport quality photographs
– Complete the PI-27 form (PI code of ethics form)
– $75 for an application fee
– $550 for a licensing fee

Pass the licensing exam.

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After completing your state application, you can sit for the Oregon PI efficiency exam. The exam covers a broad array of different topics related to private investigation.

The exam consists of 50 questions, and a score of 86% is necessary to receive your state license. You will be given up to three chances to pass the exam, otherwise candidates must wait a year before retaking the exam a fourth time. Although the exam could seem daunting at first glance, candidates should remember that the exam is “open book”, and test takers can refer to study materials during the test.

Education in Oregon

While retired police officers, and other law enforcement officers may already have the required experience and education to earn PI licensure in Oregon, those without must accrue at least 1,500 hours of investigative experience before they can practice.

Oregon law allows up to 500 hours of experience to be substituted with appropriate education, so aspiring private detectives should consider earning a degree in criminal justice, then consider the best way to earn the remaining, required hours such as joining a local police department, or seeking apprenticeships with local private investigation agencies.

In addition, candidates could consider taking bootcamps and certificate courses in topics related to private investigation. These programs could cover:

  • Surveillance and photography
  • “Skip tracing,” locating a person whose whereabouts are unknown
  • Interviewing and interrogation techniques
  • Report writing
  • Avoiding entrapment
  • Reading body language
  • Inductive reasoning
  • Employee fraud
  • Conflict resolution
  • Evidence collection and rules of evidence
  • Rules of professional conduct 

On-the-job training

There’s no substitute for experience, and private investigators learn many important skills through on-the-job training. This training depends on the type of company a private investigator works for. At an insurance company, for instance, new investigators will learn to recognize the signs of insurance fraud. At a company that specializes in domestic or personal cases, they may be trained on advanced surveillance techniques.

However, field training may be prioritized or even favored by many hiring agencies.

“Book smarts can be taught or learned. However if you are not aware or do not have good street smarts then you have no chance in this industry,” said Mark Ososke, Oregon-based private investigator and Regional Coordinator for the Oregon Association of Licensed Investigators.

Where do private investigators in Oregon work?

Private investigators work for a variety of different clients, depending on the assignment. These often include:

  • Law firms
  • Private investigation agencies
  • Insurance companies
  • Large corporations
  • Financial institutions
  • Governments

For example, someone may try and sue a doctor for malpractice, claiming they now cannot lift heavy objects. A private investigator may be hired by the law firm to investigate whether that claim is true. The PI will follow the target individual, aiming to take a video of the person carrying heavy groceries into their house, which would disprove their claim of disability. Law firms hire PIs to dispute a variety of claims.

Due to the differing types of clients and assignments, most private investigators can expect a mixed work load and environment. Your time as a PI will be balanced with office work and research as well as field training and public interaction.

What can private investigators earn in Oregon?

The national median annual wage for private investigators is $52,120. Here’s how the state of Oregon stacks up as far as private investigator pay.

Private Detectives and Investigators
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Median Hourly Wage$33

Job growth6.1%

Total Employment500

Metro area Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
Salem, OR $71,320 $49,460 $86,630
Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA $68,700 $36,230 $113,720

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2022 median salary; projected job growth through 2032. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.

The private investigation community in Oregon

A good private investigator has keen knowledge of the community they are practicing within. Most private investigators benefit by building relationships with various community members and organizations. Those pursuing a career in private investigating should consider joining the Oregon Association of Licensed Investigators.

Established in 1983, the OALI is the largest collective group of investigators within the state of Oregon. Members apply, submit a membership fee and then have further access to a database of fellow investigators and helpful career resources.

Outside of the OALI, developing relationships with local citizens, law enforcement agents and other business owners can help you build your clientele. A larger clientele, with positive reviews from your community, can help increase your earning potential.

“Ask your current clients to reach out to friends and colleagues that can also benefit from good PI services,” said Ososke.

joe edwards

Written and reported by:

Joe Edwards

Staff Writer

With professional insights from:

Mark Ososke

Oregon-based private investigator and Regional Coordinator for the Oregon Association of Licensed Investigators