How much authority does a private investigator have?

How much authority do you really have as a private investigator, process server or even as a security guard?

The answer may surprise you!

Private Investigators

Generally speaking, private investigators have no more authority than any other private citizen.

Of course a P.I. works cases and encounters certain problems often so naturally they are going to be much more capable to handle those problems than an inexperienced citizen.

For example, if you cut your brothers hair, you have some experience cutting hair. But if he gets the same exact haircut each month, then your experience is rather limited. Now imagine a person who cuts hair professionally. They cut as much hair in one eight hour shift as you cut int year! Plus they do more than just even out a standard hair cut! SO when a client comes to them wanting their bangs trimmed, dead-ends cut off, hair colored, or hair relaxed, they are going to be way better at that than you!

A private investigator works the same way. You may be pretty good at finding an address history. A P.I. can find a much more complete address history (every time!). And he/she can find criminal histories, current addresses, financial information and a ton more!

Also P.I.’s have access to databases and other sources the average citizen off the street cannot access (even if they know the source exist – which they don’t!).

Process Servers

A process servers is frequently an “Officer of the Court” with the rights and authority associated with that.

That frequently means they are given a little more latitude to do their job than a private citizen might be given.

Remember, a process serve is appointed by the court. Frequently a judge has personally signed the papers authorizing the process server to deliver the summons, subpoena or other court papers.

Security Guards

It always strikes me as odd how much authority a security guard actually has. It’s more than most people realize.

The guards authority (but, ONLY on the property where they work) can be significant!

Guards are granted their authority by the owner of the property or business for which they work. That means, just as a property owner has the authority to remove or ban a person from the property (or business), the owner may authorize the security guard to do the same. Therefore if a guard tells you to leave the property, it’s not some rent-a-cop trying to act like a big man. It may very well be the same as if the property owner personally ordered you off her land!

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you are a guard, make sure you check with your supervisor. This authority isn’t automatic. It’s given out at the owners discretion.

Loss Prevention Officers

Asset protection officers and Loss Prevention Offices do have special authority to make arrest for certain misdemeanor crimes that most citizens don’t have.

Most of the time a private citizen can make a citizens arrest for a felony crime. Sometimes you have to see the crime sometimes you don’t. For details I recommend my book How To Make A Citizen’s Arrest. In my book I have a section that spells out each states laws specifically.

And while a citizen can frequently make a felony arrest if they feel like they really need to, a Loss Prevention officer (AKA Store Detective – although nobody calls them that any more) can make arrest (or “apprehensions”) for misdemeanor thefts as well.

Are there special laws or circumstances in your area that enhance (or limit!) your authority? Share them in the comments below!

Committed to your success,
Larry Kaye, P.I.

Disclaimer: Do I really have to say this? I am not an attorney and nothing here is legal advice. If you have a question about law, ask an attorney. Duh!

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