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The Difference Between Police and Private Investigation

The Difference Between Police and Private Investigation

You might be surprised to read that police officers and private investigators are incredibly different. Of course, both roles at their core involve detailed searches and the piecing together of clues to find answers, but the ways of which they operate are distinctly different. To find out more we spoke to Miss AM Investigations to expand on this so over to Alison to explain! 


As a Private Investigator, I’m often asked why I’m not a police detective if I like investigating so much, or why I didn’t pursue a more “normal” investigative career, or even investigative sciences – I guess the only answer can be that I like a challenge and the vast differences in the fields.


Police investigations can only be undertaken once a crime is reported, suspected or committed. Following one of those events, there are several steps and red tape to go through before the investigation commences.

Firstly, upon receiving knowledge of the crime, the police must file a report and assign a case number. At this point, they will also need to access the needs of the person reporting the crime and arrange victim support if applicable. It is the police’s duty to keep the person who reported the crime up to date throughout the investigation.

The admin and liaison tasks all take up a great deal of time during the crucial early hours of investigation. These tasks are not necessary for a private investigator, allowing them to get straight to the investigation.

Furthermore, the police have targets and deadlines they must meet, as well as time-constraints. For example, in most circumstances police have only 24 hours to charge a suspect. If they cannot find the evidence in that time then a potentially dangerous person is set free. As PIs do not have such access to holding suspects, this gives them more time to investigate and can carry on the trail of a particular suspect after the police are forced to stop.


As mentioned, police investigations can only begin if there is cause – there needs to have been a crime to investigate. Private investigations can cover a wide range of civil, personal activities, such a affairs, debtor location or the search for long lost family members.

There are many crimes which the police will investigate, and a lot of these will overlap with private investigations, such a fraud and insurance scams, but these are often classified as low-priority by police, but high-priority for a PI.


Police investigations, if the crime is deemed serious enough, have a wealth of resources and access. Their resources are practically unlimited. However, they are somewhat limited but people’s perceptions. It’s likely that a source will be more comfortable speaking with a ‘civvy’ private investigator, as they often feel freer from any legal ramifications.

Speaking with a police officer at the police station can be daunting, but is the official procedure. Private investigators do not follow such procedures and can meet sources somewhere neutral, dressed in every-day clothes and a more relaxed environment, allowing them to open up more and provide more useful information.

Of course, private investigators do not have access to the same live crime scenes or privileged information that police have, which makes some investigations more complicated.

Working together

In the States, it’s not uncommon for police to use private investigators to help find evidence to move the case along. However, this is not so common in the UK. Several reports from early 2018 stated that the Thames Valley Police had used private investigators to help solve some serious crimes, but it isn’t a standard line of enquiry.

Providing they work within the law, I think the use of private investigators would be a huge benefit to the police. For me, it’s not much different from working alongside solicitors or on other cases – we’re all working towards the same goal.

To find out more contact Alison at Miss A M Investigations.



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