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Salary of a Private Investigator: Solving the Mystery

private detective and investigators and salaries, annual salary, private detective and salaries, law enforcement detective resources, Dog the Bounty Hunter costume, requirements to become a bounty hunter

Names: Andy and Traici Crutchfield
Job Title: Private Investigators, Private Detectives
Where: Atlanta, GA
Employer: Self - Covert Operations, Inc.
Years of Experience: Andy 20+, Traici 4
Education: Andy - PI School: Gwinnett Tech
Traici - Kennesaw State University: BS Public and Social Service/Sociology, Art Institute of Atlanta: BFA Interior Design, PI School: North Metro Tech.
Salary: Minimum of $300 a day

Salary of a Private Investigator

Imagining the life of a private investigator conjures up visions of TV detectives solving a crime in less than an hour and cashing in big paychecks, but in reality, the tasks of a private investigator can involve hours of administrative work. Plus, the salary of a private investigator can vary, depending on the case and how long it takes to solve.

In this salary story, we interviewed a husband and wife private detective team that finds lost loves and performs bounty hunter services. This normal suburban couple shares their detective resources and techniques, sheds some light on the requirements to become a bounty hunter, describes the administrative tasks of a private investigator, and explains the factors that determine a private investigator salary.

Private Investigator Job Description:

As private investigators, we do a lot of criminal investigations. On the bounty hunting side we lock them up, on the private investigator side we defend them. We believe everybody has the right to a defense - the best defense possible. However, our job is not to prove our client innocent or guilty. We leave that to the attorney.

Our job is to collect and scrutinize the evidence. We have an excellent track record where criminal cases are concerned. We start at the beginning and retrace the steps of every police officer and investigator that has worked on the case, in addition to doing what we feel needs to be done as private detectives.

How did you meet and become a private detective team?

Andy and I met through a mutual friend. I was going through a divorce and was, at the time, working in interior design. I also have a background in social work. I was freelancing and needed extra income with flexible hours. Andy was working full time as a private investigator for an established agency in Atlanta. He had also picked up a few private detective side jobs on his own, one of which was a death penalty case out of Brunswick, GA.

He was having a hard time completing all of his reports for his agency job and sifting through the entire discovery for the death penalty case while working 60-80 hours a week. He mentioned his situation to an attorney friend and the friend mentioned me. Andy hired me to be his "Intel Analyst." Soon he discovered that I knew the case better than he did and I started traveling with him to Brunswick. Next, I went to private investigator school. While in school, we were married and started up our own business as Private Investigators.

As you can tell by Andy's bio on our website, he has always been in the investigations field in some respect. He has investigated franchise fraud for TCBY, postage fraud and tampering (for Pitney Bowes), cell phone fraud and theft for two cellular companies, death penalty cases for a prominent death penalty attorney, bail enforcement; he has also tracked down probation violators and deadbeat dads. I do most, if not all, of the "skip trace" for Covert Operations, Inc. I just seem to have a knack for it.

Do you ever track down cheating wives or husbands?

We don't do a lot of domestic or infidelity cases. If we do, we prefer to work directly for the attorney. Clients in these situations tend to be very emotional and therefore not very objective. Sometimes people cannot seem to understand that we cannot make his or her spouse do something inappropriate during the hours that we are on surveillance.

They always ask "how long should this take?" Well, how should we know? Things are just a lot more complicated when emotions are involved. When we do take a domestic, or any kind of surveillance, we do not give any updates to the client during the surveillance. We do not want to risk the clients showing up to see for themselves, or calling us every five minutes to see how it’s going.

Bounty hunting is very similar. We have a 98 percent return rate as bounty hunters. We have traveled as far west as Phoenix and as far north as Maine to pick up fugitives that no one else could find. We have sat on a house for five days straight. We don't give up. To us, it is our reputation at stake. The bond may only pay us $1,000, but that means the bondsman stands to lose $10K; that matters to us.

What are some of the techniques that you use to find people?

We once found a guy by locating the registration of his dog with the American Kennel Club. We found another guy that the Army looked for (years) in just few weeks from a business license that he applied for in the US Virgin Islands. Sometimes we are able to employ the help of associates, of the person that we are looking for, that we stumble upon along the way, to help us look for him or her.

We once had a guy - that we had never met - check an address at an apartment complex that he lived near in New York. We just started calling neighbors until we found someone who would go to the door for us. Most of all, we don't give up. Some cases literally take minutes, but most take a week or two. We have had a few that took far more than a year. As long as our client doesn't fall off the earth, we will keep looking.

Do you have some favorite private investigator stories?

Our favorite stories are when someone is trying to find someone as a surprise for someone else. Recently, we had a woman hire us to find her husband's father whom he had never met. We located him and she sent us pictures of the three of them together. This sort of thing happens quite a bit.

We have also found several people who are behind on child support or owe money to someone for something. We have even found a runaway and a woman who kidnapped her children. These are always more difficult, because they are making a conscious effort to hide.

What do you like about being a private investigator?

We like the thrill of finding someone that other people could not find. We have developed a reputation with attorneys, from Los Angeles to New York City, that if no one else can find someone they call us. We have charged as much as $1200 to serve papers on someone - a service that is usually billed at $45-$90 - because we were able to guarantee that we would serve the person, face to face, when no one else could, and we do!

Do you have any advice on how to become a bounty hunter or private investigator?

Working in law enforcement might help, if you get into investigations. Cops don't really tend to investigate. They work their shift and anything that happens after their shift is passed onto someone else. Law enforcement will definitely help with take down techniques for bail enforcement and help you establish contacts that can help you in the future, especially law enforcement detective resources.

The best advice is to learn about human behavior and investigative techniques through schooling, books or experience. You have to think outside the box. Learn to ask questions. For every question there should be three more that follow. Learn how to eliminate everything that should be there and what is left is your target.

When you were kids, did you watch a lot of cop shows?

We are both huge crime show buffs: Law & Order, The Rockford Files, American Justice, and Hunter... all of them. I never thought this would be something that I would be doing, probably because I had no idea where to start and I doubt anyone would have given me the opportunity. Andy... he got lost one time when he was five. The police brought him home. He was so upset. He thought he had been arrested because he was in the police car. He told his mom that he couldn't be an FBI agent. He always wanted to do this kind of thing.

Can you shed some light on the salary of a private investigator?

When it comes to the salary of a private investigator, it differs greatly depending on if the private investigator works for someone else or has his own business. It also depends on years in the business or years of experience. We would say the usual salary of a private investigator is anywhere between $25K to $100K. It can very greatly. For us, the most expensive service is probably surveillance, as it is for most. Most private investigators bill hourly for all services, with the exception of maybe process service. We tend to bill a flat rate on most things. We bill a minimum of $300 a day for surveillance for any amount of time: 30 minutes to 10 hours.

If we go beyond the typical private detective salary, after 10 hours, we charge an additional $300 (per day) from 10 hours to 30 minutes. This is per investigator and it is always best to have at least two cars when following a subject. Other investigators around here charge $45-$85 per hour for surveillance and most have a minimum of $1,500 to $2,500 retainer. We get paid upfront for all surveillance, and most other things, unless we are being paid by the county or defense council. Sometimes we make exceptions for attorneys too.

How does your salary compare to the salary of a private investigator? Solve the mystery with our PayScale Salary Survey.

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