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It’s not uncommon for licensed private investigators to have law enforcement backgrounds. This provides valuable experience, skills, and knowledge that can be useful for a career in private investigation. While it may surprise some, there are several differences between police investigations and private investigations. Let’s take a look at those key differences below.

The Interrogation Process

Police investigators have the power to detain people suspected of a crime. Cops can gain key evidence and confessions by interrogating people. This proves to be extremely valuable, especially when trying to solve time-sensitive cases, such as a kidnap.

On the other hand, private investigators cannot detain people. The only way PIs can obtain evidence through word-of-mouth is if a person is willing to talk to a private investigator. Indeed, PIs must take a more creative approach to gather evidence compared to police investigators. 


Police investigators typically have heavy caseloads and work several cases at any given time. A common issue is not having enough police detectives to fully devote their time and energy on a single case. When a person’s life depends on a case being solved, this can be frustrating for the victim’s loved ones.

In general, private investigators do not share the same issue. PIs can take on the number of cases that they want to, which helps ensure that they can fully invest their time, energy, and focus on a single case. If a case takes several days or weeks, private investigators have the time and resources to make sure a client’s case is successfully solved.

Budget Limitations

Since local property taxes help fund law enforcement, one difference between police and private investigators is the budget. Police investigators can only do what is within their department’s budget, which can prevent a case from being solved as quickly and efficiently as possible. While every law enforcement department has a different budget cap, it still plays a role in how much police investigators can do. 

Private investigators are not tied down to the same budget limitations. Instead, they are only limited by what their individual clients are willing and able to pay. If the client is a huge corporation, law firm, or wealthy family, a PI can utilize a whole team of investigators to help them solve a case using top-of-the-line resources at their disposal. Since timing is crucial for solving a case, this is something to consider when deciding whether to hire a private investigator.

Approach for Arrests and Guns

Cops have the legal power to arrest a person and to carry a gun. This comes as no surprise due to the number of law enforcement shows and movies from the past several decades. 

Unlike cops, private investigators are not legally allowed to arrest a person even if they are guilty of a crime. Private investigators do not usually carry a gun. Many PIs will obtain a special weapons license for when they are working and to stay safe.

Ranking System

Law enforcement uses a ranking system to maintain a chain of command where each person is responsible for their actions and duties, as well as the actions of their subordinates. This ranking system maintains a culture of accountability, integrity, respect, service, and excellence.

Police Ranks (from lowest to highest):

  • Police technician
  • Police officer/patrol officer/police detective
  • Police corporal
  • Police sergeant
  • Police lieutenant
  • Police captain
  • Deputy police chief
  • Chief of police

Unlike cops, private investigators do not use a ranking system. However, these private citizens can use a ranking system internally among their team of investigators. This system may be used to identify a senior versus a junior investigator. These rankings do not have meaning to the outside world.

We hope you enjoyed this week’s article discussing the differences between police and private investigators. Both have strengths and limitations that often complement each other when the two types of investigators work together to solve a difficult case. If you are looking for a licensed private investigator, contact PATRIOT Backgrounds and Investigations in Davie, FL.