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Become a Store Detective: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Find out how to become a store detective. Research the education and training requirements, and learn about the experience you need to advance your career as a store detective.

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Should I Become a Store Detective?

Store detectives, also known as loss prevention agents, are responsible for identifying all forms of theft that may occur within their company's retail or storefront operations. They use surveillance technology, personal observation and other techniques to identify and apprehend alleged thieves, and to prevent the loss of merchandise or money. Store detectives also file written reports, interact with local law enforcement officials, train new employees about theft and security, perform physical security checks around the property, and meet with management to discuss safety and security issues.

Store detectives may find themselves in confrontational situations, and the ability to stay calm on the job is important. The workday for store detectives entails standing for long periods of time. In order to work as a store detective, employees must pass a background check and drug test.

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Career Requirements

Degree Level High school diploma or equivalent; associate's or bachelor's degree preferred
Degree Field Criminal justice or related field
Licensure and Certification State license may be required, voluntary certification available
Experience Previous law enforcement or private security experience preferred, on-the-job training offered
Key Skills Good observation, judgment, decision making, written and verbal communication skills, knowledge of local criminal laws, ability to work independently, conduct background records research, collect and prepare reports and evidence to present to court, proficiency with surveillance and physical security technology
Salary (2014) $44,570 per year (Median salary for all private detectives and investigators)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **ASIS International, ***O*Net OnLine.

Step 1: Obtain the Appropriate Education or Training

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), some companies may not have formal education requirements for store detectives or private investigators. Employers only require a high school diploma or equivalent, and provide on-the-job training specific to the company's needs. Previous law enforcement or security training is beneficial for employment, noted the BLS.

To improve advancement and career opportunities, individuals should consider completing associates or bachelor's degree programs in criminal justice or a related field. The two-year degree program provides students with the skills needed to work in retail loss prevention, local law enforcement, private security and other security-related work. Depending on the school, an associates degree may be transferable to a bachelor's degree program.

Success Tip:

  • Take relevant criminal justice courses. Both associates and bachelor's degree programs offer courses relevant to employment as a store detective. These courses include investigative techniques, security systems, criminological theory, juvenile justice, and search, seizure and arrest laws.

Step 2: Get a State License

Most states require private investigators to obtain a state license, according to the BLS. License requirements vary by state and local laws. Individuals whose employers require them to carry a firearm need to meet additional requirements.

Step 3: Gain Work Experience

Individuals may seek entry-level employment as a private security guard, or loss prevention specialist to gain experience to become store detectives. Some of the duties of a store detective include conducting physical security checks around a store, identifying all forms of potential loss, participating in safety inspections, and conducting surveillance to identify and apprehend alleged shoplifters. Store detectives work with store personnel, local law enforcement and the court system.

Step 4: Obtain Professional Credentials

Individuals who want to seek advancement opportunities may want to consider certification in loss prevention and security. These professional credentials demonstrate a person's knowledge and skill in these fields. Industry organizations such as the Loss Prevention Foundation and ASIS International offer certification for individuals whose primary duties are in security management, investigation and physical security. To qualify for certification, individuals must have a certain number of years of experience, or have a bachelor's degree and meet other requirements.

Step 5: Opportunities for Career Advancement

The BLS noted that advancement opportunities for private detectives are limited. Individuals working as store detectives can find employment in other occupations such as police officer, correctional officer or a federal law officer. The minimum educational requirement for being a correctional officer is typically a high school diploma, while a police officer would typically need a high school diploma and police academy training. Some police departments require a college degree. Federal law enforcement careers require a college degree, although some federal investigators, such as those working for the Department of Homeland Security, may be able to substitute military or job experience for a college degree.

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