Surveillance Investigators and the Profession
Working with state or surveillance agencies, surveillance investigators function as private investigators but under a different wing. Whereas investigators normally investigate crimes such as murder, they work more closely with corporate security forces or banks to gather information for corporate security forces to provide answers for crimes such as fraud. They conduct surveillance on the suspected and are often the first to meet the suspect. In many regards working as an investigator entails similar methods to that of a private detective, except surveillance investigators operate in the eyes of the law. They are constantly traveling to the location where the suspect is believed to be, conducting surveillance, interviewing people to gather evidence, and documenting their findings.
Surveillance investigators are often referred to as “video detectives” or “wiretap hunters”. In this career type, they are typically called in to determine if there is a valid cause to suspect a crime. If a surveillance team is employed, the members are sworn in and have been given official written permission to search, seize, and recover tangible items found during their investigation. This job is similar to that of a private investigator, except they are sworn in as private investigators and are allowed to conduct surveillance investigations as well as making audio recordings. The difference between the two positions lies in the fact that private investigators are not allowed to make audio recordings unless they have obtained a warrant.
Some surveillance investigators are specifically trained in conducting surveillance at the scene of an incident such as accident scenes, or crimes at the scene of a crime such as bank robbery. Others specialize in media coverage such as surveillance footage from news outlets or police tape from a shooting scene. A surveillance investigator may work on a case from start to finish, gathering and organizing evidence to present to a judge as evidence in a court of law. They document locations, names and times of phone conversations, and take photos and video recordings to document the evidence they collect.
There are many reasons why employers and businesses use private investigators and not surveillance investigators. One of those reasons is to reduce costs associated with hiring employees that have no background checks. Many job applicants fail their background checks, which results in them being hired despite poor work performance. Likewise, businesses may choose not to hire employees with no criminal records because they believe the employee would be a liability if convicted of a crime, and thus would be better off hiring a surveillance investigator instead.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that approximately 25% of all employment is done by individuals holding jobs at which they do not have to obtain their own private investigator’s license. Most surveillance investigators hold at least a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Most states require that prospective surveillance investigators are 18 years of age or older. There is currently no limit on the number of surveillance job opportunities. Private investigators can perform many background checks from one location, rather than having to go from location to location when conducting a check.
There are several types of surveillance investigators. There are those that monitor criminal activity, determine the identity of the caller, trace credit card transactions and investigate crimes in progress. Those employed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics are considered “full-time”, while those employed by the private investigation industry are considered “part-time”. The type of work that surveillance private investigators perform will determine how much they earn. Surveillance investigators may earn as much as thirty-five to fifty thousand dollars per year, depending on the type of surveillance that they do.
In addition to obtaining a formal education, many surveillance investigators choose to attend college part-time while working. There are a variety of colleges that offer degrees in criminal justice, forensic psychology and other related fields. Some colleges require part-time attendance at classes that are not directly related to their degree program. There are many colleges that offer criminal justice degrees, although a majority of these colleges do require at least a master’s degree for graduates to be able to become certified surveillance investigators.
Other types of surveillance involve physical surveillance. This usually requires professional training. Physical surveillance involves interviewing suspects, searching homes and business for evidence and conducting searches of potential subjects. This type of surveillance may require weeks or months of work and can be very expensive. Before becoming a surveillance private investigator, individuals should ensure that the degree that they plan on obtaining is reputable and will provide them with ample opportunities for employment once their training has been completed.