What’s the Difference between Police Investigation and Private Investigation?



There are two basic things that separate private investigations from police-conducted ones. The first is the state-given ability to detain people for interrogation, which private investigations don’t have the power to do. Second, they need a notification of an ongoing crime before on-site investigations can be done. This is where private investigators can step in. For one thing, they can be hired both by police and private individuals to gather information or evidence on suspected individuals. And these can take place outside of ongoing crimes.


Between state-given police powers and a private investigator’s wider work spectrum, there are also four differences that separate the two. Let’s take a look at them:


  1. Arrests


Unlike the police, private investigators are still considered as private citizens. This means they can’t make arrests. While this act is within the power of police officers, a private investigator can make a citizen’s arrest. Meaning they can only detain the person until government authorities are called to handle the matter. This can only happen if the detective sees the suspect committing a criminal act in the course of their investigation.


Though police detectives can only make their arrests when there is sufficient evidence, private investigators are capable of tracking down the proof. Threats like robbery or assault are some of the things that they can interfere in. In this case, it’s highly advisable to have evidence on hand to present to the police to prove the suspect’s guilt.


  1. Warrants


Private investigations do have certain limits. They can’t tap into another person’s calls or record conversations without the person’s knowledge. Entering another person’s property without consent is also a crime and they can be charged for it. Police investigations on the other hand have the advantage of warrants. While these need approval before securing, it allows the officers and police detectives to search the premises of a suspect for evidence. They can then arrest individuals who might be involved in crimes.

It’s often recommended for private investigators to cooperate with the authorities if these acts need to be carried out. This is necessary to avoid facing state and federal charges when conducting their own work. Despite these limitations, conducting surveillance during private investigations is still allowable. Tailing suspects, for one thing, can be allowed depending on the severity of the case.


  1. Scope of investigation


Since the police are mandated to protect the state, the scope of their investigations are mostly focused on crimes within their area. This means that if you work for the NYPD for example, your jurisdiction covers New York City. Though it’s also possible to work with cases on a federal level.


Private investigators on the other hand, can work on cases beyond criminal activities. Fraud, infidelity, and background checks are some of the cases that they can handle. In short, they can also handle matters that involve the private sector. And while police investigations are mostly limited to their own state, these third-party agencies can operate in other states. This is assuming they have a branch that is licensed to practice in another area.


  1. Budget Constraints


Another thing different about police and private investigations is the budget. While the former is funded by a set amount of state taxes, the latter can theoretically be paid higher amounts to fund the case. Companies, private individuals, and even police departments can finance private detectives to pursue evidence on suspects that they can’t reach. It’s little wonder then that the demand for them is increasing. In fact, the market for hiring these services is expected to grow by 5.4 percent annually to an estimated $64.5 billion in 2016.


These four reasons highlight just some of the differences between police and private investigations. And both have their own advantages and disadvantages. Depending on your needs, it’s best to select the appropriate type of service to suit the case at hand.