Skip to Main Content

Security and Investigation


Although governments employ nearly 3.5 million protective service workers, it is impossible for police and other government agents to oversee every situation where crimes can occur. For example, it is estimated that about 1.33 percent of retail sales is lost to shoplifting or employee theft, according to a National Retail Security Survey. In 2018, victims reported approximately 7.2 million property crimes in the U.S., 5.2 million of which were larceny/theft, including theft of items from motor vehicles. Even though the rate of these crimes actually diminished considerably over the preceding 15 years, businesses and private citizens have increasingly turned to private security companies, including alarm system services, for detection of and protection from crime. Insurance companies have encouraged the growth of the private security industry, mostly by charging lower premiums to homeowners and businesses using security services, and to a small extent by hiring private detectives to investigate insurance fraud.

The private security and investigation industry actually consists of two industries recognized by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau: investigation, guard, and armored car services; and security systems services. In the former industry, the prominent occupations are security guards, bodyguards, private detectives, and investigators. The latter industry is dominated by security alarm installers and repairers, plus sales workers and clerical staff.

The investigation, guard, and armored car services industry employs more than 687,470 security guards, including those who are stationed in bank lobbies, those who monitor closed-circuit television feeds at shopping malls, those who patrol the grounds of office parks with dogs at night, and those who staff the security desks in corporate office buildings. Bodyguards are security guards assigned to protect individuals. The industry employs fewer than 5,000 workers as armored car guards, but they are often highly visible, wearing bulletproof vests and heavily armed, escorting money for banks and other enterprises with large cash flow.

The industry also employs nearly 14,010 private detectives and investigators. Although some are like the gumshoes who appear in novels and movies, working solo out of dingy offices to solve crimes, more of them work on projects for corporations to detect insurance fraud, track down deadbeat debtors, solve computer crimes, or run background checks.

One theme common to most of these occupations, as well as to the clerical and administrative jobs in this industry, is minimal entry requirements for education. Almost all of these occupations require only a high school diploma. Employers typically provide on-the-job training. One exception is that some specialized jobs for private detectives and investigators involve college-level knowledge of fields such as accounting or computer technology. White-collar crimes that are committed with a high level of skill require investigators with equal or superior skills. The other major exception is the workers who install and repair security alarm systems; some college-level course work in electronics is helpful for job candidates.

Licensing is required for many of these workers, especially security and fire alarm system repairers, but also security guards and private investigators in many states.

The outlook for the industry as a whole is good compared to most other industries. Prospects are best for security and fire alarm systems installers and private detectives and investigators.