California Private Investigator FAQ

Information about California PI Licensing and Conduct

Many people find private investigative work to be interesting and the diversity of the work to be attractive.  Because of that, we receive many emails and telephone calls from people interested in becoming a California private investigator.  We have included information and instructions and the licensing eligibility requirements for the State of California.  We hope the information in this California private investigator FAQ will answer some of your questions and assist you in making a decision about hiring a PI or perhaps pursuing this line of work.

The information listed below was written with the intent to inform the reader about what one needs to do to become a licensed as a Private Investigator in the State of California. Each state has specific PI Licensing requirements similar to the State of California.

Is it illegal to hire a California private investigator?

California private investigators are licensed by the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services, which is part of the California Department of Consumer Affairs. Any investigations conducted by a private investigator in California are legal, as long as they comply with all state and federal laws.

What can a private investigator legally do in California?

A private investigator is an individual who (1) investigates crimes, (2) investigates the identity, business, occupation, character, etc., of a person, (3) investigates the location of lost or stolen property, (4) investigates the cause of fires, losses, accidents, damage or injury, or (5) research Civil & Criminal court records, Sex Offender Registration, Bankruptcy Records, Property Ownership Records, Driving and Motor Vehicles Records, Employment History, Employment Background Investigations, (5) secures evidence for use in court, and more.

What can a private investigator not do in California?

Private investigators may not protect property.  They may protect persons only if such services are incidental to an investigation.

What are the licensing requirements for a Private Investigator?

The general requirements for a Private Investigator are:
Be at least 18 years old.
Three years of compensated experience totaling not less than 6,000 hours in investigative work, while employed by law enforcement agencies, collection agencies, insurance agencies, banks, courts, and other private investigation agencies, etc.
A college degree in criminal law, criminal justice or police science can be substituted for part of the experience.
Pass a written exam.
Undergo a criminal history review.

Steps to obtain your Private Investigator License in the State of California

An individual, partnership, or corporation licensed as a private investigator may employ a qualified manager to manage the business on a day-to-day basis. To be eligible to apply for licensure as a private investigator/qualified manager, you must meet the following requirements:
Pass a two-hour multiple-choice examination covering laws and regulations, terminology, civil and criminal liability, evidence handling, undercover investigations and surveillance. A copy of the Private Investigator Act will be sent to you; and
Upon notification that you have passed the examination, you must submit a licensing fee of $175 to the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services, P.O. Box 989002, West Sacramento, CA 95798-9002.

How do I apply for my PI License?

To apply for a Private Investigator license, submit your completed application, two recent passport-quality photographs, a $50 application fee and a Private Investigator Live Scan form signed by the Live Scan Operator. A $32 DOJ fingerprint processing fee and a $19 FBI Fingerprint processing fee must be paid for each applicant at the Live Scan site. Send the application package to the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services, P.O. Box 989002, West Sacramento, CA 95798-9002.

Can a Private Investigator use a post office box for an address?

Yes. A Private Investigator may list a post office box only if mail delivery to the business address is not possible, or if the principal place of business is located at the licensee’s personal residence. This request must be explained in writing. Otherwise, the company must state address by street, number and city. In addition, no licensee shall conduct business from any location other than the location for which a license or branch office registration was issued.

Can a Private Investigator carry a concealed weapon?

Yes. A Private Investigator may carry a concealed weapon on duty if he/she also has BSIS exposed firearms permit, and possesses a concealed weapons permit issued by local law enforcement or:
Is a retired peace officer with an endorsement to carry a concealed weapon or is an active duty peace officer.

Can a Private Investigator act as a bodyguard?

A Private Investigator may protect individuals. However, he/she may only do so in connection with a case that he/she has been previously hired to investigate.

A Private Investigator has been hired to conduct an investigation. Who must he/she divulge information to?

A Private Investigator may not release information acquired during an investigation to anyone other than his or her client, unless otherwise instructed by the client. However, if there are any criminal offenses, information may be released to local law enforcement or the district attorney.

Can a Private Investigator do anything that a police officer can do?

No. A Private Investigator has no law enforcement authority even if he/she has been hired by law enforcement to perform an investigation. A Private Investigator is an ordinary citizen and can only make citizen’s arrests.

Must a Private Investigator’s findings be submitted to the client in writing?

Investigative reports must be submitted in a manner agreed upon by the investigator and the client. If there is no agreement, oral reports are as acceptable as written reports. Investigative reports must be submitted to the client upon demand if payment has been rendered. Private investigators must make every effort to ascertain that the information acquired is factual and correct. While the Bureau has no jurisdiction over fees, licensees must provide clients with a fee schedule or reasonable explanation of how charges are calculated should the client question the licensee’s billing.

Can a Private Investigator represent themself as government officials?

No. Private Investigators may not present themselves as anyone other than a Private Investigator. The law prohibits the use of any title, uniform, insignia, identification card or any statement which gives the impression that they are connected with any federal or state agency.

Can a Private Investigator enter property without an owner’s consent?

No. A Private Investigator may not enter any private building without owner’s consent.

Can a Private Investigator use a badge?

No. A Private Investigator may not carry or wear a badge in connection with an investigation since it may mislead others to believe that he or she is a peace officer or other government official.

Who does Filley & Associates hire?

We hire professional, dedicated, honest and dependable investigators, who know the laws and professional code which regulates our field.  Our investigators also need to have the ability to read people.  They need to know how to vary their approach to match the person with whom they are speaking.  They know how to use sympathetic body gestures and phrasing to put them at ease.  They know how to ask the right questions to develop all of the information that witness has knowledge of.  The final, step is knowing how to relay that information to client in a way that fully conveys the information we developed.
For a position with Filley and Associates, please see our Employment Opportunities page for additional information.

Thank you for reading our PI licensing FAQ.  Do you have any questions not answered in this California private investigator FAQ?  If so, send us an email.  Click here to return to the news story index.