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The Significance of Colorado PI Licensing

Editor's note: This article was written by an industry professional and guest contributor. The views and opinions in this article are of the author and do not reflect the views of PInow. If you are interested in becoming a guest contributor, send an email to [email protected]


 PPIACRobert has been working in the state of Colorado as an investigator for over 10 years. He has obtained most of his experience in insurance claims investigations, and specializes in surveillance. Robert is fluent in Spanish, and utilizes those skills in conducting and translating Spanish statements. In 2010 Robert became involved in an effort to defeat HB10-1012, a bill that would have limited surveillance in Colorado workers compensation investigations. Robert became President of PPIAC in November 2010. In 2011 Robert along with several other professional private investigators was influential in introducing and passing Colorado's PI license into law. As President of PPIAC Robert continues to work towards elevating the standards of professionalism for investigators in Colorado.


Now that private investigator licensing has been restored and implemented in Colorado, many investigators have begun the process of obtaining their Colorado licenses, and some are not quite sure if a license is a worthwhile credential, or a necessity for this profession. Several previous attempts at a mandatory PI license in the last 34 years had failed to convince Colorado legislators of the critical importance of licensing. In 2011, Colorado legislators finally agreed to pass a law that they felt was acceptable. Colorado, unlike every other state in the country, is unique in it’s licensing law in that it is a voluntary license. What this means is that every private investigator in Colorado has to make the individual decision whether to obtain a license. Some investigators are probably going to wait to see what type of benefits licensed investigators will have before they apply for a license of their own. Let’s take a look at the significance that licensing will have on the investigative profession in Colorado.

1. Licensing Qualifications: The first impact is probably one of the most obvious reason for licensing in the first place. Every state with licensing, Colorado included, has statutes restricting licenses from individuals with criminal histories. Different states have different standards. An individual convicted of a felony will have a difficult time ever qualifying for a PI license in any state. Some states are more lenient with certain misdemeanor convictions, or the time that has passed since the misdemeanor conviction and the time of application for a license. Some states do not allow for any misdemeanor convictions at any point for an investigator to obtain and keep a PI license. Besides a background check, state licenses have an experience component for qualifying. States have differing experience provisions, so as a result some are more restrictive than others. By obtaining a license, an investigator can have the distinction of having met the minimum hours for obtaining the license.

As a business owner for a short 6 years, I’ve received many calls in that time span from colleagues across the country looking for a Colorado private investigator. Many of those colleagues, with mandatory licensing states, expect the same standard in a Colorado investigator, and would ask me if I was licensed. After explaining that there was no licensing in Colorado, many of those colleagues were shocked to hear of a lack of licensing standards. It didn’t take too many of those conversations for me to realize I needed to be licensed, regardless of Colorado previously having zero standards. My company obtained licenses in the states of Utah and Kansas. The reason for choosing those states was a practical one. Since my company’s main specialty is surveillance, I wanted to be licensed in bordering states. This way, if I was conducting a surveillance in western Colorado, my case wouldn’t be hindered with my subject crossing into Utah. Likewise if I was conducting a surveillance in eastern Colorado and the subject drove into Kansas. Mind you in my 10 years working as an investigator, I’ve only ever worked one case that originated in Utah, and one that originated in Kansas. It is the peace of mind of knowing that I can follow my subject from Colorado into Utah and Kansas that makes licensing in those states worthwhile. So what does a CO license mean for our colleagues across the country? It means they can readily find an investigator who has undergone similar licensing standards.

2. Legal Cases: Another impact that licensing has for Colorado private investigators is in the legal based work that investigators are involved in. PIs are often hired to work cases that have a legal basis or purpose. Many times those cases will culminate in providing testimony in court or hearing. Licensed investigators can spend less time being qualified to provide testimony, by simply identifying themselves as licensed private investigators. Attorneys and their clients can likewise spend less time qualifying an investigator for their cases.

3. Access to Information: Another reason for a private investigator to be licensed is for records and database access. In Colorado, for example, there was previously no definition for a private investigator anywhere in Colorado statutes. As a result, there was nothing to distinguish private investigators from the general public. The only way that investigators typically identified themselves to records custodians and database providers was with business cards or business registration documents. There was the potential for an unscrupulous individual to deceptively identify themselves as a qualified investigator to obtain access to a desired record, or worse, gain access to an entire database.

So why should an investigator in practice voluntarily obtain a license when that person readily meets the state requirements and qualifications? A license serves as a credential, a recognition, a distinction, a designation that simply cannot be bypassed if that investigator is committed to being a professional. For those young, up-and-coming investigators that do not yet qualify for a license, the benefits of licensing will hopefully serve as a goal worth working towards. It is the responsibility of experienced, licensed investigators to guide new investigators towards the goal of obtaining their licenses and ensuring the future of this profession for generations to come.

For more information on Colorado’s private investigator licensing program, please visit http://www.dora.state.co.us/private-investigator/index.htm. For more information on the Professional Private Investigators Association of Colorado, visit http://www.ppiac.org.

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Official Press Release from PPIAC:

35 Years - Private Investigators Licensed in Colorado
From: Professional Private Investigators Association of Colorado
June 29, 2012

  • Did you know Colorado was the first state to have a private investigator licensing law?
  • Did you know that it was the first law passed by Colorado, as a state, in 1877?
  • Did you know that 100 years later, in 1977, that law was found unconstitutional due to lack of definition of a private investigator?

Since 1977, there has not been a legal definition – or protections for the private investigator or consumer – that licensing provides. In 2011, after 34 years, Colorado passed and enacted a new law effective July 01, 2012 – the Private Investigators Voluntary Licensure Act of 2011.

Colorado's unique volunteer licensing program allows for unhindered access to any person interested in being a private investigator while working towards the goal and requirements of licensure. It assures that any person currently doing business or employed as a private investigator can continue to do so without any unnecessary burdens. What are the benefits to the interested or practicing private investigator, as
well as consumers and potential clients?

  • To demonstrate that we are vetted by the Colorado Department of Regulatory agencies (4,000 hours of experience is verified and all must pass a fingerprint CBI criminal records check)
  • Eases the burden of qualification on attorneys and other clients
  • For consumer protection (being licensed in another state offers no consumer protection in Colorado, but was necessary to PIs for records access and credibility before this program)
  • For continued access to records and databases (exceptions are increasingly more common to be given to those licensed within the states they do business)
  • To be on an equal plane as our licensed investigator colleagues
  • For the recognition and distinction that licensing provides

The lack of a definition for “Private Investigator” is important. Following repeal of the licensing law, that the Professional Private Investigators Association of Colorado (PPIAC) was formed by three concerned private investigators and friends, for the purpose of seeing licensing return to Colorado. At that time it was known what impact no licensing would have: the lack of regulation invites unwanted (and often unwarranted) regulationby governing authorities; de facto regulation. There were no protections to private investigators as
practitioners of our craft; nor were there protections of consumers utilizing the services of private
investigators. It took nearly a dozen attempts and 34 years to accomplish this definition and credibility. All
potential clients will know that a private investigator opting to be voluntarily licensed in Colorado has at
least 4,000 hours of experience in the most recent five years and has cleared a fingerprint background check conducted by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. Moreover, if that investigator is also a member of the Professional Private Investigators Association of Colorado, they were accepted only after having agreed to a complete background investigation. No other association in Colorado supports professional licensing. PPIAC has members that do not qualify for licensing, and some that choose not to be licensed – potential clients are still selecting from a pool that has been subjected to the background investigation.

Voluntary licensing in Colorado still maintains the component of being self-regulated – it is a choice, and choices have benefits. Two immediate benefits are: consumer protection and definition of a private investigator. This became apparent after an April 2010 Colorado District Court opinion. In one important decision concerning the ethics of private investigators, a district court judge ruled that the ethics of private investigators in Colorado are undefined because in a state with no definition of private investigators there could be no regulation, and therefore no ethical considerations. This was inaccurate, but a judicial decision and precedent. The judge was correct in that you cannot regulate a profession that has no regulatory parameters. You cannot define a private investigator if there are no regulations.

In the past, for professional reasons, private investigators in Colorado would seek licensure from other states. This provided some benefits to the private investigator, but no benefits or protections to the consumer. Now that Colorado has a licensing program, there is consumer protection through reporting all complaints of private investigators through the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies.

The licensing program in Colorado is voluntary – it is a choice – and a professional credential that tells potential clients that they are choosing from a pool of experienced investigators that have subjected themselves to a background check.

Persons interested in become a licensed private investigator in Colorado, or verifying licensure, can visit the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies - http://www.dora.state.co.us/private-investigator/index.htm.


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