Private investigations are often challenging, complex -- that's the primary reason clients employ a private investigator. Chances are you've heard, maybe even used the idiom, "Going down the rabbit hole" which refers to taking routes that are problematic, often following leads that are not specifically related an investigation. Starting out I experienced this problem first hand. After completing several interviews in a simple assault case, I had a long list of additional "leads" to follow. What should have been a simple, quick investigation, quickly expanded to include several actions. When asked by my supervisor about the status of the case. I shared the information I collected and how I was diligently following several "leads" such as; "Did the combatants know each other?", "Exactly what time did it occur", among others. Patiently my supervisor worked with me so I would understand the concept of going down the rabbit hole and how to avoid it.
First, to avoid investigative rabbit holes, it is important to identify specific questions that need to be answered. In my previous example, the questions were simple; "Did an assault occur?" and "Who was the aggressor?" By focusing on answering just one or two questions other issues that are raised are often moot such as exactly what time did the incident occur. Whether it happened at 11:00 or 11:15 was not relevant, rather did it happen.
Second, as a private investigator the scope statement that is developed with the client is the best guide for the investigation. If during an interview additional information about other incidents arise, they can be referred back to the client while the investigator focuses on the initial scope statement. This is critical to meeting the contractual obligations as well as ensuring the investigation stays focused.
Third, identifying the relevancy of facts collected, which can be a combination of one and two above, will help avoid going astray during an investigation. A lot of facts are collected during any investigation. Several of the facts may not be directly relevant to the incident being investigated. Gather facts as they are found during an investigation but when nearing the end of the investigation focus on relevant facts to ensure the investigation is accurate and that others will have a clear understanding of what actually occurred. One of our favorite examples used to teach report writing is a statement that a private investigator put in a report about an internal employee theft case. "Witness 1 stated that they had noticed that the suspect often coughed a lot which disturbed others in the office." This statement had no relevancy in the case but the investigator decided to include it in the report.
Professional private investigators know the importance of keeping their investigations focused on the specific questions need to be answered, staying within the scope of the investigation and sorting the facts as to their relevancy to the specific incident. Being a private investigator requires being cognizant of the time spent, focusing on the scope of the investigation to ensure that the investigation is profitable. (This does not imply that investigators should short-cut an investigation - rather focus on the incident at hand).
The investigative report is one of the primary deliverable's that private investigator provides to their client. From a report personnel actions, criminal actions, and/or civil actions may be started. In some cases, the report may serve as protection when claims are made against the investigator. Following are some tips, as a refresher for the experienced private investigator, and for those just starting out in private investigations.
Overall, private investigators should include only facts about the case in their written report. This is important for the client and for protecting the investigator in the event there is a challenge to the report later on. If you only include the facts, then it is hard for the report to be disputed.
Effective interviewing requires a lot of work. Laying the foundation for rapport, closely monitoring body language, and controlling the interview. (Click here for the basics of interviewing) Monitoring and controlling the tempo of the interview is an additional technique that effective private investigators use to increase the amount and the quality of the information they obtain from the interviewee.
For the purposes of this article, tempo refers to two primary aspects; the emotional state of both the investigator and the interviewee, and speed of the interview, primarily through the speed in which questions are asked.
Emotional State refers to the emotional state of the both participants -- interviewer and interviewee. Private investigators may feign various emotions at various times during an interview to invoke a response from the interviewee. They may feign lack of interest, anger, and/or empathy during an interview to further a sense of trust or illicit a response from the other. The emotional state of the interviewee during the interviewee also impacts the results. Individuals that are angry, or emotionally upset, may be less likely to impart truthful information, not that they are trying to mislead, but their emotions control their verbal responses. Depending on the incident, emotions may vary from fear, to happiness.
Speed of the interview refers to how quickly or slowly the private investigator moves through the line of questioning, or the speed in which they guide the interviewee in to responding to questions. Sometimes a line of quick questions, not rapid-fire, may evoke an outburst or emotional response. Consider the private investigator that pauses frequently, slows down in asking questions. Depending on the interviewee's emotional state, this may increase or decrease stress which can aid in gathering important information.
Let's start with a disclaimer - The following techniques are provided as a brief overview, not a course. Be careful in utilizing techniques that follow without proper training and then guidance from a skilled investigator.
As Private Investigations is a business that relies on making money to be successful, it is easy for a Private Investigator to fall into traps, primarily, failing to adequately evaluate a case before accepting it. Private investigators, when deciding whether to take a case, or not, must carefully weigh their decision before proceeding.
From observation and experience there are some pitfalls that private investigators have to work hard to avoid. The opportunity to increase the bottom line can result in negative consequences if not carefully considered.
When deciding to take a case, investigators should consider the T.A.S.K.E.R. thought process...
There are other obvious reasons not to take on a case such as; the clients' motivation may not be ethical, the investigation can not be successful, or the investigator realizes the client will be difficult to work with in completing the investigation. Although there may be a missed opportunity for financial gain, when the risks are present, understand that long-term business opportunities can be negatively impacted, potentially threatening the existence of the firm.
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When working on a criminal case, or an individual suspected of violating company policy you need to prepare in advance for conducting an interview, or follow-up interview, and identify a strategy to confront the suspect with their actions. Following are a few suggestions in preparing to confront a suspect.
Preparing in advance can help you during the interview or interrogation process.
Starting the interview/interrogation:
Closing the interview/interrogation:
These are just a few ideas, or tips. How you implement them will depend on your specific case, the evidence you have, reactions of your suspect, and your personal preference in conducting interviews or interrogations.
No industry is free from individuals that choose to do the wrong thing from time-to-time and this applies to private investigators as well. Unfortunately, there are those limited few that bring discredit to our profession and it often reflects badly on all of us.
Ethical, professional private investigators are always alert to conduct that may breach or violate ethical professional standards. Here is a simple decision making method to determine if your conduct during an investigation is ethical. This method is extremely important when the decision is not clear.
If you answer Yes to any of the questions above then you should not take that action. If you can answer No to all of these questions, there is a great chance that others will not question your conduct.
One question that often comes up from students, "Is there any situation where violating ethics acceptable, maybe more ethical?" This is a tricky question as it seems to imply the private investigator is conducting an unethical act when they learn something that is of such great importance to reveal that it would make the unethical act ethical. Our answer, considering the context of the question, is No - we are not aware of any "excuse" to make unethical conduct ethical. Otherwise the action(s) would be ethical at the time.
The biggest risk a private investigator takes when deciding to pursue an unethical or questionable action in their investigation is the harm that may be done to a client. This is unethical behavior aside from the action - creating risk for the client.
It's unfortunate that a few investigators decide to continue moving in the wrong direction when they know better, or are just not sure. When they do, and get caught, this reflects badly on them and badly on the private investigator profession. Any time the action is questionable, you are not sure if the answer is Yes or No, the best course of action is to find an alternative approach or discuss with legal counsel, or other trusted colleagues in your profession.
For fun, watch New York Private Investigator, Michael McKeever, by clicking here, Fact-Check some private investigator movies.
Some investigations into incidents, criminal or surveillance activity can be difficult to convey to your client in a written report. Establishing a clear timeline in chronological order can greatly assist in sharing information with your client they can understand. Here are a few timeline format ideas to help in your next investigation:
Slip & Fall Jones Retail Store
The parallel timeline clearly demonstrates the two actions as they occur. From the timeline it is easy to see the security officer responded as quickly as possible, as well as, the manager notified the security officer in a timely manner.
Timelines are a great tool to clearly demonstrate, document the results of the facts gathered, making it easy for others to understand what and when something occurred. As a private investigator gathering facts it is important to provide them to the client in a format they can understand, almost visualize what occurred.
There's nothing more rewarding than conducting an interview of a suspect and getting a confession, or completing an eye witness interview that clearly identifies the suspect. But wait, your work is not done.
Even when an interview is completed, the information you are searching for has been obtained, you must verify the information to ensure it is factual, then document it in the report for your client.
Why is it important to verify the facts when you get a confession or eye witness accounts? Because the suspect may change their story, or if court is in the future, they simply plea the fifth amendment and do not testify. Witnesses disappear, they move away or over time their memory recall becomes fuzzy. Also, a defense attorney may seek to poke holes in the information you gained through interviews by pointing out you did not verify information leaving doubt in the mind of the judge or jury.
Following is a simple checklist to verify information from a confession or eye witness statements:
Verifying each piece of information provided by suspects and witnesses will ensure that your case is complete and accurate. Any discrepancies should be investigated further until there is no doubt. This will help maintain the integrity of your case in the event memories of witnesses fade, or the suspect refuses to talk anymore.
As a private investigator have you ever found yourself working day and night with little time for a break? Over time, you find you don't have time to accomplish all the tasks you need for working your cases efficiently. We are going to provide some helpful tips to help you manage your time. Before you continue reading understand that not all of these tips are possible everyday, but if you strive to include as many as possible, when possible, you will be able to gain some more control over the most valuable resource you have...time. So, whenever possible try;
Time management is critical to a private investigator. Properly done, you will be more productive, efficient, and the quality of your work will improve. Take time, to make time work for you!
Pro PI staff
Experienced professionals and trainers.