A Private Investigator Vs. A Detective: What’s The Difference?

Don’t mistake a private investigator for a detective. Although they are both secretly investigating cases, they work in different ways!

Many people consider private investigators and detectives as interchangeable terms for the same job. Yet, they are different.

Scroll down here to understand the differences between the two roles – just in case you might get involved with them in the future!

Differences between a private investigator and a detective


Private investigators can work for an investigation agency, be self-employed, or be freelancers. Meanwhile, detectives are professionals working for federal law enforcement agencies or police departments.

The same is that both work environments are stressful when some work involves working for long and irregular hours, even at weekends and holidays.

Qualification & certificates

In Singapore, private investigators need to obtain a PI license from the Singapore Police Force or PLRD.

Similarly, detectives, as professional investigators, must have specific degrees and certificates requested by law enforcement companies or courts. They are required to have an intensive understanding of state, federal, and local laws to avoid illegal investigations.

Involved cases

Although the police can hire private investigators, they mostly take cases which do not violate laws, such as when your partner is cheating on you, child custody, finding some information, people failing to pay your money, or insurance fraud, etc.

Private investigators can reject any cases they do not want to follow.

Detectives, however, are responsible for crime scenes and civil cases such as assault, arson, sexual assault, robbery, homicide, or abduction. In each case, they collect as much evidence as possible, interview witnesses, investigate suspects, and even testify in court if requested.

In small departments, detectives can handle various cases, while detectives in larger police departments will specialize in typical types. However, they must take any assigned case – no rejection except in special situations.

Authorization in investigation

A private investigator can do anything to resolve a case as long as his activities are not a criminal offense. However, they cannot arrest suspects or break into a house for more information. This can be a disadvantage because some cases require conducting surveillance of locations and people to get important live evidence.

In contrast, detectives have more legal jurisdiction to visit crime scenes, get into places to investigate more information, or even arrest criminals. At the same time, they are bound by strict interrogation, constitutional procedures of investigation and arrest, due process, and more.

Investigation fee


You have to pay private investigators based on their working hours. Be careful when making payments because there is little protection against scams.

On the other hand, detectives are paid by law enforcement agencies or police departments. You do not have to pay the detectives directly, but you might still have to pay a fine or court fee, if any.

Final Thoughts

Now that you fully understand the differences between private investigators and detectives, you can find the right people to help resolve your case!