Private Detective or Private Investigator: Is There a Difference in Massachusetts?

In some states, “private detective” and “private investigator” are interchangeable. However, in Massachusetts, the term “private investigator” is most used because “private detective” can easily be confused with “police detective”. Many states are trying to get the “private detective” title legally removed for the same reason.

Laws and licensing varies from state to state; some states don’t require a private investigator license at all. Massachusetts, however, requires a license, regulated by the Massachusetts State Police, or, more specifically, the colonel.

What does it take to become a licensed private investigator in Massachusetts?

Massachusetts has some pretty rigid requirements to become a private investigator. For instance, applicants have to have at least three years’ background experience in law enforcement of some kind, such as:

A detective actively investigating
Former investigator of some type in service to the U.S.
Former police officer with a rank higher than foot patrol
A police officer employed for ten years or more with the commonwealth
One of the stipulations to become a licensed Massachusetts private investigator is for the applicant to be “a person of good moral character”. To this end, the application has a few strict requirements. Take, for example, references.

References are required for most applications, but the references for a private investigator can’t be from just anybody. The references have to be “reputable”; in other words, well known and considered honest men and women themselves. Those references have to read the application and agree that the applicant’s statements are true, and that the applicant is, indeed, a person of good moral character.

As well, those with any type of felony, no matter what state they received the felony conviction, are unable to receive a private investigator license – ever. If a private investigator receives a felony conviction after gaining a license, that license will be revoked.

One of the reasons good moral character and honesty is so important, is because having a private investigator license gives you access to several non-public databases. A dishonest individual would have access to information they could quickly use against others for their own gain, rather than for the benefit of their clients. As time goes by, state licensing agencies are doing more and more to get rid of the “sleezy” private investigators portrayed in so many movies.

If you’re thinking about becoming a Massachusetts private investigator, making sure you meet the requirements before applying can save you a lot of time and frustration. If you’re thinking about hiring a private detective or investigator, make sure they’re licensed. Licensing doesn’t absolutely guarantee an excellent investigator, but it does greatly increase the chances.