Wisconsin Bounty Hunter Guide: Requirements and Steps

Bounty hunting is outlawed in the state of Wisconsin, which has a population of 5.8 million people.1 Because there is no private bail system, there are no bail bondsmen to transfer money from a defendant to the court. Instead, defendants or their families post bail by paying the county clerk. After the defendant is convicted or the case is dismissed, compensation for victims and legal fees are taken out of the bail money and the remainder is returned to the defendant (or their family).

A job similar to that of a bounty hunter in scope and function is a private investigator (PI). PIs, known as private detectives (PDs) in Wisconsin, investigate information for their clients in exchange for a fee. In Wisconsin, private investigators are licensed by the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services (DPS). If you’re interested in becoming a private detective in Wisconsin, continue reading below.

Table of Contents
Private Detective Requirements
Steps to a Career
Related Careers
Training and Education Options
Finding Work
Salary and Job Outlook
Private Detective Resources

Requirements for Prospective Private Detectives in Wisconsin

Private detectives in Wisconsin must be at least 18 years of age, a US citizen or a resident alien, and have no felony convictions. Additionally, applicants who wish to become private investigators should not be excessive users of drugs or alcohol and should not have any physical, emotional, or mental conditions that would interfere with their ability to do the job. If you meet these qualifications, you are eligible to become a private detective in Wisconsin.

Steps to a Career as a Private Detective in Wisconsin

Private detectives work to find information on personal, financial, and legal matters for their clients. A PD may be able to work with a bail bondsman to locate a fugitive who has skipped bail, but the PD cannot detain or arrest the individual, as in other states. There are a few steps you must satisfy in order to receive a license as a PD in Wisconsin.

1. Secure a job offer as a PD.

In order to apply for a PD license, you must already be employed as a PD by an appropriately licensed detective agency. Since your employing agency must fill out part of the application for your individual license, you must secure this job offer prior to submitting your application to the state.

2. Complete the application.

To become a licensed private detective in Wisconsin, you must complete the Wisconsin Private Detective Application Form (Form 469). As of June 2022, the license and application fees were $135. Veterans may have their fees waived by the DPS. Your digital electronic fingerprints must be submitted with your application; a $39 fingerprinting fee (as of June 2022) will apply. When registering for fingerprinting, you should use the code “FPWISecurity.” You must submit your licensure application within 14 days of submitting your fingerprints.

The application for PI licensure must also include:

  • Form 2687, a form authorizing a federal background check
  • Form 1483, which certifies liability insurance or bond satisfactory to the DPS
  • A recent photograph with your head and shoulders clearly visible

2. Pass the examination.

Prospective PDs in Wisconsin must take and pass the Private Detective Exam. The exam is based on Wisconsin statutes and the administrative code relating to the private detective profession. A score of 84% or higher is required to pass; if you fail the exam, you can retake it after 30 days. After the DPS receives your application for licensure, you will receive directions on how to schedule the exam via email.

3. Receive your license.

Once you complete the steps above, you will become a licensed private detective. In Wisconsin, private detectives must renew their license by August 31 of every even year. As of June 2022, the renewal fee was $8. Along with your renewal application, you must submit a criminal background check. Note that to maintain your license in good standing, if at any time your employment status or employer changes, you must submit the appropriate form(s) to the DPS.

Related Careers

In some cases, private investigators will work in similar careers to gain further work experience and to supplement their income. One such similar profession is process serving. Below is a brief summary of how to become a process server in Wisconsin.

Process Server

Process servers work for the court system to file legal papers, serve documents to parties involved in a lawsuit, and retrieve documents as needed. Process servers in Wisconsin are not required to be licensed, but they must be authorized by either the sheriff or their county clerk. Check with your local court system for further details on requirements.

Training and Education Options in Wisconsin

To work confidently and to become more knowledgeable in your field, you should consider obtaining a two- or four-year degree in criminal justice. This training will show potential employers that you are serious about your career while also giving you advanced information about the legal system and critical thinking skills. The following schools in Wisconsin offer associate degrees in criminal justice or related fields.

Chippewa Valley Technical College
620 W Clairemont Ave
Eau Claire, WI 54701

Fox Valley Technical College
1825 N Bluemound Dr
Appleton, WI 54912

Mid-State Technical College
500 32nd St N
Wisconsin Rapids, WI 54494

Northwood Technical College
1900 College Dr
Rice Lake, WI 54868

Finding Work

Private detectives and bounty hunters have to use similar techniques when looking to secure work. Jobs for private detectives are seldom posted on common job search engines. Instead, you will need to connect with existing PDs or private investigator associations to meet experienced detectives and to get your name out there. It may benefit your career to identify a mentor or enroll in an apprenticeship program in private investigation.

Featured Private Detective Agencies in Wisconsin

Listed below are some of Wisconsin’s private detective agencies that are popular, well-known, or highly rated.

Attoe-Watson & Company, Inc.
579 D’Onofrio Dr
Ste 100
Madison, WI 53719

Beacon Investigative Solutions
311 S Walbridge Ave
Madison, WI 53714

First Priority Investigations & Security
PO Box 652
Holmen, WI 54636

Hawk Detective Agency
5202 W Wisconsin Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53208

L. Johns Services, LLC
5414 S 14th St
Milwaukee, WI 53221

Thomas Intelligence & Investigations Agency
Janesville, WI 53545

Third Coast PI
5300 S 108th St
Ste #231
Hales Corners, WI 53130

Wisconsin State Process
PO Box 121
Madison, WI 53701

Private Detective Salary and Outlook in Wisconsin

Before you begin your career as a private investigator, you should research the job outlook for the profession. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 120 private detectives worked in Wisconsin as of 2021, and they earned an average annual salary of $51,900.2 Nationally, the average income for PIs was $60,970 during the same time period.3 Long-term job projections are not available for private detectives and investigators in Wisconsin, so we use public-sector detectives and criminal investigators as a proxy. Through 2030, jobs for detectives and criminal investigators are expected to increase by 5.9% in Wisconsin.4

City or Metropolitan AreaNumber Employed2Average Annual Salary2
Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis40$50,890
Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI310N.Av.

Additional Resources

Joining a professional association can be a great way to expand your network and keep up-to-date on legal requirements and best practices for the profession.

1. US Census Bureau Quick Facts, Wisconsin: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/WI/PST045221
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2021, Wisconsin: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_wi.htm
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2021, Private Investigators: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes339021.htm
4. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections: https://projectionscentral.org/Projections/LongTerm