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Illinois Bounty Hunter Guide: Requirements and Steps

Illinois has a population of over 12 million people, but the state does not have a private bail bond system.1 This makes the job of a fugitive recovery agent, or bounty hunter, unlawful. Most bounty hunters in other states work as private investigators (PIs) or private detectives (PDs) to supplement their income. Because a bounty hunter is not a legal profession in Illinois, we will explain the requirements and the process to becoming a PI in the state. Private detectives investigate personal, financial, or even criminal matters for their client. A PD can work for an individual, a group of people, or an organization. Most PDs are self-employed and are paid on a “per job” basis.

Requirements for Prospective Private Investigators in Illinois

Private investigators in Illinois must be licensed by the Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation (IDFPR). PDs must be 21 years of age, have no felony convictions within the last 10 years, have no mental or physical defects or disease, and have no substance abuse problems. Along with these requirements, there are steps you must take in order to receive your private investigator license in Illinois. Continue reading below to understand the full process.

Steps to a Career as a Private Investigator in Illinois

Before submitting your application to the IDFPR, you must meet the minimum requirements and determine if you will be applying based on experience or a combination of education and experience. The steps below outline the process for each path, the required documentation, and the associated fees. All applicants must pass state and federal criminal background checks and be fingerprinted within 60 days of submitting an application. Fingerprinting fees may vary by vendor but some fees are as low as $9 (as of March 2016). You must submit the receipt from the licensed fingerprint vendor with your private detective application fee. If you have held a license as a private detective in any other state, you must submit a Certificate by Licensing (CT) Form to the Department.

1. Apply based on experience or education.

Private investigators must apply for licensure, submit the supporting documents, and pay the $298 application fee (as of March 2016).

Experience Requirements

To apply based on experience, you must have at least three years of experience (within the prior five years) in any of the following roles:

  • A full-time investigator for a private detective agency as a registered employee
  • A full-time investigator for a practicing attorney
  • A member of an in-house investigative unit for a corporation with at least 100 employees
  • A member of an in-house investigative unit for any of the branches of the US military

If you meet any of those experience requirements, you must submit a Verification of Employment (VE-DET) Form to the IDFPR.

You must submit the Verification of Employment (VE-DSC) Form if you have at least three years (within the past five years) of the following investigative experience:

  • Full-time investigator within any law enforcement agency
  • Full-time investigator experience within a state’s attorney’s or public defender’s office
  • Full-time experience working for a private detective agency in a state that does not require licenses for private detectives

If you previously worked in canine odor detection services you must submit certified copies of at least three canine odor detection services contracts prior to January 1, 2005.

Education and Experience Requirements

If you have a bachelor’s degree in law enforcement, business, or a related field, the Department must receive the certificate of education (CE) form from your school in a sealed envelope.

To satisfy the experience requirement with a bachelor’s degree, you must submit the Verification of Employment (VE-DET) form and have at least one year of experience (within the past five years) in one of the following roles:

  • Full-time investigator for a private detective agency as a registered employee
  • Full-time investigator for a practicing attorney
  • Member of an in-house investigative unit for a corporation with at least 100 employees
  • Member of an in-house investigative unit for any of the branches of the US military

OR

You must submit the Verification of Employment (VE-DSC) form if you have at least one year (within the past five years) of the following investigative experience:

  • Full-time investigator within any law enforcement agency
  • Full-time investigator experience within a state’s attorney’s or public defender’s office
  • Full-time experience working for a private detective agency in a state that does not require licenses for private detectives

If you have an associate degree in law enforcement, business, or a related field, you must submit the same forms for education and experience as required by individuals who hold a bachelor’s degree. Because the degree is a two-year degree, you will be required to show proof of two years of investigative work experience whereas bachelor’s degree holders must only show one year of experience. If you have previously completed a non-degree military training program in law enforcement (or a related field), you may substitute that training for one year of the required work experience.

2. Take and pass the examination.

To become licensed, IDFPR requires that you have education and/or experience AND take the private detective written exam. As of March 2016, the examination fee was $298. The exam is a 90-minute test and it consists of 75 questions; you must score a 70 or higher in order to pass. To increase your chances of passing, you should review the Department’s private detective written exam study guide, which includes a sample test. If you fail, you may retake the test an unlimited number of times but you must receive your application for re-examination from the Department prior to taking the scheduled exam again.

3. Receive your license.

Once you complete the steps above, you will become a licensed private investigator in Illinois. Your work in this field can help you gain the experience and connections needed if you decide to pursue a career in fugitive recovery in another state.

Private detective licenses in Illinois expire on May 31 every three years. To renew, you must pay the required fee of $150 (as of March 2016) and provide proof of liability insurance.

Related Careers

Much like bounty hunters, private detectives often work in similar fields to maximize their earning potential and exposure to new clients.

Process Server

Due to the investigative nature of the job, a career as a process server can be similar to that of a private investigator or detective. Process servers serve legal documents or information on actions or legal proceedings to involved parties at the request of the court. In Illinois, a sheriff, coroner, and an appointed special investigator can serve process. In counties where two million people or less reside, a licensed private investigator may act as a process server. The sheriff’s office must have a copy of your PD license on file if you intend on serving legal papers throughout your home county.

Training and Education Options in Illinois

Having an associate or bachelor’s degree isn’t a requirement to become licensed as a private investigator, but it is one path to licensure. For individuals who are qualifying based on experience alone, it may beneficial to obtain a certificate or undergraduate degree in criminal justice. The skill-set provided may improve your investigative skills and open up more job opportunities like working as an independent contractor for a law firm or a large corporation. Listed below are a few schools you should consider if you want to gain more classroom criminal justice experience.

City Colleges of Chicago – Truman College
1145 W Wilson Ave
Chicago, IL 60640
http://www.ccc.edu/colleges/truman/Pages/default.aspx

Benedictine University
1500 N 5th St
Springfield, IL 62702
http://www.ben.edu

Parkland College
2400 W Bradley Ave
Champaign, IL 61821
http://www.parkland.edu

Southwestern Illinois College*
2500 Carlyle Ave
Belleville, IL 62221
http://www.swic.edu

*On-site police academy

Finding Work

Finding clients as a private investigator will take skill and persistence. To aid in this effort, you should look to find a mentor or apprenticeship to get started. Because the state of Illinois requires previous investigative experience, you should get to know a few private detectives and other experienced professionals around town. Reach out to them and others to build your professional network. Consider joining clubs and associations for PDs or PIs as they usually discuss available job opportunities.

Featured Private Investigator and Private Detective Agencies in Illinois

As stated previously, in a business like investigation, networking will be essential to your success. Many people gain clients through referrals and word of mouth. To help you begin developing your network, we’ve listed a few highly rated private detective agencies that you might consider visiting.

Bill Clutter Investigations
1032 S 2nd St
Springfield, IL 62704
http://www.clutterinvestigations.com

Courthouse Courier
3716 N Vermillion St
Ste D5
Danville, IL 61832
http://www.courthousecourier.org

Heritage Investigations
123 W Madison St
Ste 1700
Chicago, IL 60602
http://privateinvestigatorchicago.com/2012

Metro Detective Agency
917 N Walnut St
Danville, IL 61832
http://www.illinoisprocess.com

On Q Protection & Investigation Services
2958 W Belmont Ave
Chicago, IL 60618
http://www.onqpi.com

The Investigation Group, LLC
2333 N Seeley
Chicago, IL 60647
http://www.chicago-private-detective.com

Private Detective Salary and Outlook in Illinois

In Illinois, 850 private investigators or detectives are employed and they earn an average annual salary of $46,140.2 The Chicago-metropolitan area has the fourth largest employment for PDs in the nation (630).3 Projections show that jobs for private detectives in Illinois will increase by 11%, amounting to 50 new job openings per year.4

City or Metropolitan Area Number Employed Average Annual Salary
Chicago-Joliet-Naperville 630 $38,870

The Bureau of Labor Statistics only provided private investigator statistics for Chicago.
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2015.2

Additional Resources

If you would like to find out more information about becoming a private investigator in Illinois, you should consider looking into the organization below.

References:
1. US Census Bureau Quick Facts, Illinois: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/17
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2015 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Illinois: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_il.htm
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2015, Private Investigators: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes339021.htm
4. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections: http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm