Wisconsin Bounty Hunter Guide: Requirements and Steps

Bounty hunting is outlawed in the state Wisconsin, which has a population of 5.7 million people, as a bill was recently vetoed by the Governor (in 2013) that would have made working as a bounty hunter legal.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 or private detectives (PDs) investigate information for their client in exchange for a fee. In Wisconsin, private investigators are licensed by the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services. If you’re interested in becoming a private detective in Wisconsin, continue reading below.

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 investigators work to find information on personal, financial, and legal matters for their client. A PI may be able to work with a bail bondsman to locate a fugitive who has skipped bail, but the PI 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 PI in Wisconsin. This guide should serve to answer some of the questions you may have about PI licensure and inform you of the process needed to become licensed. To begin your PI career, you must:

1. Complete the application.

To become a licensed private detective in Wisconsin, you must complete the Wisconsin private detective license application (Form 469). As of April 2016, the license and application fees are $202. Veterans may have their fee waived by the Department. Your digital electronic fingerprints must be submitted with your application; a $39.25 fee (as of April 2016) will be applied. 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 1487*, which certifies liability insurance in the amount of $2,000
  • Form 456*, a form stating that you are employed by a licensed private detective agency
  • A recent photograph with your head and shoulders clearly visible

*If you are self-employed, you should complete Form 456 to apply for licensure as an agency. To become a private detective agency, you must meet the same criteria as a licensed private detective employee but you must have $100,000 of liability insurance or a bond.

2. Pass the examination.

Private investigators 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 Department 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 on August 31 of the even year. As of April 2016, the renewal fee was $115. Along with your renewal application, you must submit to a criminal background check and you must submit Form 456, which states you are employed with a licensed private detective agency.

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. Qualifications may vary by jurisdiction, but you must be at least 18 years of age and a US citizen or resident alien. Some counties in Wisconsin, like Saint Croix County for example, require process servers (who work for the sheriff’s department) to have an associate degree and a valid driver’s license.

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
2600 W 5th St
Marshfield, WI 54449

Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College
600 N 21st St
Superior, WI 54880

Finding Work

Private investigators 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 PIs 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.

B&W Protection Service
3400 S 92nd St
Milwaukee, WI 53208

Beacon Investigative Solutions
311 S Walbridge Ave
Madison, WI 53714

Hades Investigations of WI LLC
6650 W State St
Milwaukee, WI 53213

Hawk Detective Agency
5202 W Wisconsin Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53208

Independent Investigations
3235 Nelson Rd
Sun Prairie, WI 53590

Legal Investigations & Process
5065 N 124th St
Butler, WI 53007

Private Detective Academy
200 S Executive Dr
Brookfield, WI 53005

Private Investigation Inc of WI
200 S Executive Dr
Brookfield, WI 53005

TacOps Shadow Investigations of Wisconsin
2806 Charles St
Racine, WI 53402

The Rock and Roll Detective
4230 E Towne Blvd
Madison, WI 53704

Private Investigator 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), 230 private detectives worked in Wisconsin in 2015 and they earned an average annual salary of $41,650.2 Nationally, the median income for PIs is $45,610.3 Over the time period between 2012 and 2022, employment opportunities for private investigators in Wisconsin are projected to increase by 13.2%, or by 10 average job openings per year.4

City or Metropolitan AreaNumber EmployedAverage Annual Salary
Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis100$43,300
Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI980N/A*

Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2015.
*Estimates not available from the BLS.2

Additional Resources

1. US Census Bureau Quick Facts, Wisconsin: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/WI/PST045219
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2015, Wisconsin: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_wi.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: https://projectionscentral.org/Projections/LongTerm