Equipment [How to become a PI – book excerpt]

Kurt.nzHow to become a private investigator

Here is a list of essential equipment. These are the items I use on a regular basis. I haven’t gone into too much detail as there are plenty of other articles that do so, and that’s more on the training side. But this should give you a good idea of what you’ll most likely use in your first year.

Be aware that if a company hires you as a contractor, they will most likely expect you to have your own equipment. Not many firms supply equipment to their contractors these days.


  • Digital video camera. This must have a number of features such as ability to record in low/no light, a decent optical zoom, compact enough to conceal easily, ability to have a date/time stamp on the recording, tripod mounting point, ideally a viewfinder (not just a fold out screen), SD card recording (for evidence chain of custody).
  • Digital camera. Same as above but for taking high quality still shots. Some video cameras have this ability too.
  • A burner phone. One you can call and text people on and not have them trace it back to you. Because of the people you’ll be dealing with you do need to take your security seriously. Change this phone every few months. You can easily hide your number on calls, so you can theoretically use your normal phone for that, but there’s no easy way to hide your number when texting.
  • A suitable vehicle. One that can blend in, so pick a common vehicle for the area you’re operating in. Make sure it doesn’t have any distinguishing or unusual features that will help people remember it. The windows need to be legally tinted so no one can see inside. If possible, ensure the number plate is hidden on your state’s motor vehicle database (so it can’t be traced to you).
  • A smart phone. With GPS, decent camera, voice recording etc. Make sure you have a Bluetooth earpiece so you can be handsfree even if you get out of your vehicle. Battery life is key, I also carry a power pack when I can.
  • A Dictaphone/audio recorder. These days you can usually use your phone but the last thing you want to do is run out of battery during an interview. Keeping a separate audio recorder is good insurance.
  • Laptop. You’ll be doing a lot of work on the road, especially writing reports and transferring photos and video. A tablet will not suffice, you need something that has a good processor and USB ports. I use a Microsoft Surface Pro as it’s almost as light as a tablet yet still has complete functionality.

Nice to have

  • A covert camera. In most cases I’ve recorded photo and video on my phone, it does not look suspicious if done correctly as everyone has a phone, and it records the date/time/GPS location in the meta data. However, in some situations a covert camera disguised as a pen, for example, may be necessary. Get the highest resolution one you can and make sure it records date/time.
  • A static camera. One that allows you to leave it outside in all weather. It needs to be weatherproof. These often operate on motion detection.

You’ll notice that I’ve left off any mention of firearms or defensive weapons. In New Zealand, even our police force doesn’t regularly carry firearms so there’s no way an ordinary citizen is allowed to walk around with one. It’s similar in a lot of other countries too.

However, of the private investigators in the US that I’ve spoken to or read, 90% say that they don’t recommend carrying one either. If you don’t carry one, you’re forced to rely on your communication skills and non-confrontational approach when working on a case. This tends to get better results anyway than if you appear threatening in any way. Insurance is also more complicated if you do carry one.

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