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Professional Development, University Extended Education, California State University, Fullerton
  • Rob Carpenter

    Rob Carpenter

    Program Instructor

What It Takes: Private Investigation

With nearly three decades of law enforcement and investigative experience, instructors like Rob Carpenter are part of what makes Cal State Fullerton’s Private Investigation certificate program one of the nation’s best. Rob shares his insights about what you can expect to learn in our program, and where it can take you.

What’s it really like being a private investigator?

We see so much on television, and the majority of PI work is not that. I haven’t heard a gun go off in 23 years since I’ve been licensed, so there’s no shooting. There’s no chasing people over fences or crashing your car through gates. There’s no disarming bombs or picking locks. But it’s very challenging. Every case is different; that’s what’s awesome about it.

What fields can someone go into with this certificate?

There are different industries. There’s a grocer’s union that has investigators. There are other private investigators that are sending their employees. There’s loss prevention departments from Target and Best Buy that are sending their people. They might do background checks in a P.I.’s office. They might do surveillance in the field or undercover work.

This is no longer a male-dominated industry. We see so many opportunities for women. Our students who graduate the program are prepared to conduct background checks in a P.I.’s office, they are able to perform pre-employment background screenings on individuals or backgrounds on companies. We teach our students interview skills so that they can go out in the field to conduct interviews and take statements on a lot of different types of cases.

Our program graduates are also thoroughly trained on how to conduct a professional surveillance in the field; many graduating students obtain work in this area. Undercover work is another area that is ideal for our graduates. This work might be done in a warehouse environment, a professional office or even a grocery store setting.

When a student comes out of a nationally ranked program like ours, the possibilities really are endless.

What types of tangible skills will students learn in the program?

We show them all of the databases that we use that are only accessible to licensed private investigators - how to find information and how to use that information. For example, how to do your research to find bank accounts for someone. I give them all of my contacts for difficult-to-find things like utility searches, even vehicles.

I also give them copies of reports and show them what a proper surveillance report looks like. We spend a whole day on surveillance: what it looks like, what equipment you should have with you, what to buy, what not to buy right now trying to keep costs down.

What careers are open to those who complete the program, but who might not want to pursue a full license?

Most people won’t have the hours required for licensing unless they’re coming from law enforcement. So they would get hired as an employee, either at an attorney’s office or with an investigator’s office doing backgrounds or doing other kinds of field work. Other graduates will use the information acquired in this certificate in their retail loss-prevention jobs or things like that. They could also work as a registered process server or start their own background investigation company. We talk about all of the different opportunities available to them in class.

What sorts of high-tech devices do you enjoy using in the field?

I like the key fob video recorder. You follow somebody into bar, and you can just set your keys down on the bar, point it at them and it just starts recording. Something like that where you are just so up close to a person, in color with good audio.

Also, the vehicle tracking devices – they’ve gone down to about the size of a small brick, and once it’s attached to the car, you get live information. So we’ll follow a car around, and I’ll have my laptop open and I can see where the car is.

I like that kind of technology, to be able to follow somebody without having to keep my eyes on them. So, the technology is awesome.

What kind of support can students expect once they’ve completed the program?

For a year after they complete the program, as I come across entry-level openings, I send those out to students. One year, I sent out 60 job openings. And other investigators are willing to help you. It’s not a dog-eat-dog environment. They’re all just out there trying to raise the profession to a higher level, and you get a lot of support that way. You’re not out there on your own.

Cal State Fullerton’s Private Investigation certificate program consists of five required courses totaling 60 hours of lecture and discussion. To learn more, please visit the Private Investigation certificate program website.