Licensing for Private Detectives

Since 2001 it has been proposed that the private investigation sector should be licensed. Those progressive members of our community (including ourselves) have long been advocates for this to occur. Why? Quite simply, at the moment being a private detective is an unregulated business and classed in the same category as brothels and prostitutes! We are both unlicensed and unrecognised industries and not recognised as a profession.

If we were to become a licensed profession, it would allow the unprofessional and rogue companies and individuals who claim to be private detectives to be eliminated from the sector. Don’t get us wrong, there will always be a rogue element, just as there is in any industry or profession or governmental agency but at least there would be a framework in place. This will then hold everybody accountable and punish those who fail to conform to the rules and regulations set in place by the governing body (likely at this stage to be the SIA) and/or the laws surrounding it.

It would pave the way for the sector to change dramatically. We would be eligible to apply for government and local authority tendered contracts to bring competition into the investigation and security sectors. It would help reduce government spending – especially in a time of major budgetary constraint and austerity measures being news headlines on a weekly basis. We firmly believe at Central Investigations London that the police force will soon have to look at outsourcing certain investigatory matters to private firms, for example, perhaps some burglary matters. Let’s be honest about household burglaries. Unless there is a concentrated problem in a geographic area the police are not particularly interested to investigate one off isolated crimes. The reason the police have to attend is so that a crime report number can be created so that it can be given to the householder to facilitate them entering an insurance claim for the damages or loss of property. The police only attend to check that the burglary is of a genuine nature and the glass is on the inside of the window frame and not outside! The home owner doesn’t really expect the police to investigate or the culprit to be brought to justice. The insurance company don’t care and will usually pay up without any objection. Please note we are not attempting to trivialise the crime or victims of burglary, but this is the harsh reality and whether they admit it or not the truth regarding the sentiments and actions of the majority of each of the parties involved!

The licensing issue was brought to light recently with the telephone hacking scandals in the press and the recommendations from the Leveson Inquiry. Talks between the government, the ABI and the SIA have been reignited and we hope that regulation and licensing is now on its way. The only professional association currently recognised is the ABI (Association of British Investigators) which has two levels of membership, personal and corporate. The personal membership vets the applicants by completing a criminal record check, checking that the person is fit to act as a private detective and has sufficient knowledge of acts such as RIPA and DPA rules and regulations, they carry requisite insurances and are a fit and proper person to act as a Private Investigator. The current membership of the ABI stands at only around the 600 mark, yet, although not a confirmed figure, it is believed that up to 10,000 people act or masquerade as PI’s in the UK. Licensing would require all of the remaining 90% plus to be regulated. It would clean up the sector and get rid of the cowboys and unprofessional “PI’s” who taint the good work of the majority of investigators and detectives. The number of “take your money and run” stories we have heard is unbelievable. As a side note to this article, we always advise everyone to check your investigator is a member of the ABI. The members have to abide by a code of conduct set down by the ABI and there is a complaint process in place if you should ever need to take recourse against a Private Investigator.

The proposals for the format of regulation are still sketchy and are in constant debate between the SIA, the ABI, other bodies and the government. The latest reports are it is likely that regulation will involve an element of qualification, a minimum mandatory course such as the current EDI level 3 Award in Professional Investigation. Other qualifying factors are likely to include levels of experience within the sector and background checks including CCJ and bankruptcy and criminal record checks. These elements would mirror similar frameworks for other SIA regulated qualifications such as a door supervisor’s licence. Other rumoured conditions for qualification are being BSO certified as a company, i.e. having strict in house policies and procedures regarding how the business conducts itself internally. This needs much further thought as the majority of private investigators are individuals or sole traders and not companies. The ongoing regulation will then more than likely include an element of CPD (Continued Professional Development) as undergone by solicitors and other professions.

Consequently, as a summary we feel the likelihood of regulation is inevitable. However, only time will tell as it has been on the cards for over 12 years already. The sooner the better for those of us who realise that regulation is for the better.