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How to become a private investigator in Virginia

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Private investigators are the civilian counterparts to police investigators. But before you can become a private investigator in Virginia, you must first obtain a state-issued license, which means getting the required training at an approved private investigator school.

A variety of different fees, forms and requirements must be completed in order to apply for private investigation registration in Virginia. Candidates will apply online through the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services. It is critical for candidates to research and identify the prerequisites of the application process before pursuing state registration.

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How to become a private detective in Virginia

Meet the basic eligibility requirements.

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Virginia has a basic set of eligibility requirements for candidates applying for their PI registration. These include:

– U.S. citizenship or legal resident alien of the U.S. status
– Being 18 years of age
– Successful completion of training requirements
– Earning a firearms endorsement certification (if you intend to carry a gun)

Candidates also undergo a thorough background check. A history of felonies or violent crimes can result in the state denying your application.

Complete the necessary state training.

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Private investigators in Virginia must complete 60 hours of “O2E” training. “O2E” training aims to educate and train PI candidates and offers a strong foundation in the practice of investigative work.

This training is divided into four different sections:

– Law
– General investigative skills
– Documentation
– Types of investigation

All private investigation candidates in Virginia must complete the required training and pass the accompanying exam before applying for their state registration.

Submit your online application.

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Once you have met the basic prerequisites, completed the needed training and passed your state exam you may now apply for your state registration through the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services. Candidates will be thoroughly reviewed and vetted before receiving confirmation of their registration.

What education and training does Virginia require?

While Virginia doesn’t require private investigators to earn a college degree, doing so can help set aspiring investigators apart from competition. A popular course of study from private detectives is criminal justice or law enforcement.

In addition, all private investigators must complete the O2E training and pass the associated exam to practice. This training takes 60 hours and covers the following topics:

  • Standards of professional conduct and ethics
  • Private investigation and the law
  • Statutes and regulations
  • Legal procedures and due process
  • Civil and criminal law
  • Rules of evidence
  • Legal privacy requirements
  • Investigative skills
  • Conducting research and surveillance
  • Interview techniques
  • Documentation
  • Report writing
  • Modern photography and audio technology
  • Accidents
  • Insurance fraud
  • Background checks
  • Domestic matters
  • Undercover operations
  • Fraud and financial
  • Missing persons and property

In addition to the coursework above, each module requires that you pass one practical exercise on the subject matter.

Ethics for PIs in Virginia

Following ethical guidelines is crucial for private investigators, and is covered during their training in Virginia. Careless, illegal or unethical behavior not only risks placing investigators and their work in legal jeopardy, but it can also negatively affect the public’s perception of the entire profession.

Private investigators in Virginia pledge to uphold the following ethical code:

  • To conduct themselves with honesty, integrity and good conscience
  • To preserve their clients’ confidences
  • To conduct all their investigations within the bounds of legality and morality
  • To council clients against any unethical or illegal actions
  • To explain all fees and charges in their case and to render a factual report

On-the-job training and field experience

Some of the best training for private investigators on the job and in the field. Many private investigators work and study under an experienced mentor or investigation agency. For example, some private investigators specialize in working with attorneys for legal discovery while others work with companies that specialize in repossession and insurance fraud.

What fees and forms are required to be a PI in Virginia?

There is a set fee schedule for those who wish to enter the private security services field in the state of Virginia. This is the area private investigators are classified under in the fee schedule. Some of the fees and forms associated will depend upon whether you are applying for a license as an individual, or for a business. For those who plan to carry a firearm, Virginia mandates that they must earn their firearms endorsement and pay the non-refundable registration and application fee.

Here is a list of the different forms with their fees that you can expect to pay as a private security services (individual) registrant applying for a license in the state:

An additional criminal history and background check fee is invoiced upon completion of your application. If you have been found guilty of a misdemeanor or felony, then a supplemental criminal history form will need to be submitted. This form helps the state discern whether your criminal history makes you an unfit candidate. Having a misdemeanor or felony conviction on your record does not automatically disqualify candidates from the additional registration needed to become a private investigator in Virginia.

  • Background check fee: $27.00

You can also expect to pay business license fees to operate your business.

You can add additional categories to your registration by applying separately and paying additional fees. Additional categories include career fields such as electronic security technician, locksmith and personal protection specialist among several others. You can find a complete list here.

  • Completing the requirements for an additional registration category
  • Successfully complete all training requirements for each additional registration category
  • Pay the additional registration category fee of $34.00 (per category)

How to gain clientele and grow a business as a PI

One of the most difficult aspects of private investigation is building your clientele. Growing your business and generating positive reviews may lead to increased income, and is a skill and challenge in itself.

“Variables such as market size, any specialties of the agency or investigator and their reputation can affect how a PI increases their clientele and earnings,” said John Morse, a CMECI, CA, PI based in Richmond, Virginia.

Some PIs in Virginia work for existing agencies, but many opt to start their own private practice. While starting your own business can potentially increase your earnings, doing so does entail focusing not just on your clients, but on the administrative portions of running a business such as taxes, business licensing and bookkeeping. Taking classes in business and accounting can help PIs wanting to start their own practices in the state.

“Most investigators are decent in the actual work product, most however lack serious business skills. You have to treat the work like it is a business. Advertising and marketing are key in making initial contacts, and in order to build on those relationships and get future referrals work boils down to your work ethic and communication skills. Managing a client’s expectations from the start is paramount,” Morse said.

Networking in Virginia

Private investigating requires deep knowledge of your community. This means establishing a relationship with the local people and developing an understanding of the community and its temperament and general personality.

Those with a better understanding of the area they are investigating may be able to establish trust and familiarity and thereby produce results for their client more quickly.

Becoming a member of the Private Investigators Association of Virginia (PIAVA) can help Virginia investigators. PIAVA aims to build connections and trust between private investigators and offer helpful career resources. Members come from all walks of life and even from different job sectors. The association aims to maintain the highest standards of private investigating within the state.

joe edwards

Written and reported by:

Joe Edwards

Staff Writer

john morse

With professional insights from:

John Morse

CMECI, CA, Private Investigator