Police investigators and private investigators are two occupations that are quite similar at first glance but have major differences. Before you hire a private investigator, it is important to understand what he or she can do.
I believe that the first step in deciphering the difference between police investigators and private investigators is ultimately establishing what both of them do and the types of cases they handle.
Police investigators are employees of local, state, or federal government and are generally limited to working on cases where there is evidence of some sort of crime being committed or law being broken.
On the other hand, many private Investigators are self-employed individuals, though some may work for law firms, insurance companies, the government, or other private investigation firms.
They focus mainly on fact-finding for legal, personal, financial, or business matters. This may involve running background checks, finding missing persons, conducting surveillance, or exploring potential fraud. The types of matters private investigators handle often have less to do with criminal activity and more to do with something personal or business-related.
Ultimately, there are many things that police investigators can do that would be a lot more difficult for a private investigator to provide and vice versa. This is because of their legal authority and what their job limits them to.
Police investigators are hired to enforce the law on behalf of the local, state, or federal government. When people are suspected of breaking those laws they are expected to take action. In turn, they have the power to detain witnesses, compel testimony, warrant arrests, issue citations, go to the crime scene, collect first-hand evidence, question witnesses, and more.
Private investigators do not have that same legal authority. They only have the ability to gather information but must refrain from taking any physical or legal action when doing so. This requires private investigators to be more creative in their efforts of gathering information legally.
Although police investigators have legal authority that private investigators do not, because police investigators are employees of local, state, or federal government, they are required to take on more criminal cases and enforce the laws. This gives police investigators no time to investigate cases where there is no evidence of a crime. This is why a private investigator is sometimes more beneficial than a police investigator. They can continue to provide investigation for their client where he or she needs them to investigate.
To summarize, police investigators do have increased privileges that private investigators do not have, but private investigators are able to devote a lot more time and attention to civil and personal matters of a client. A great example would be police typically not having the ability to do a lot for a missing-persons case unless there is evidence of a serious crime, whereas a private investigator, on the other hand, can thoroughly investigate, even if it appears that the person is missing by their own choice.