There are many ways, or formats for private investigators to write reports. Here is a brief description of one format that may be helpful to investigators to add to their report writing toolbox:
Overall, the format is simple. The report is divided into the sections of; Synopsis, Investigation, Interview(s), and Results.
1. Synopsis - is a brief summary of the investigation. It is written after the conclusion of the investigation, similar to an executive summary. For example;
Investigator conducted four hours surveillance of John Doe over two days. On day one, Doe was seen playing soccer with several subjects at a park near his home. On the second day, Doe was seen cutting down trees with a chain saw, then spitting wood with axe by raising above his head and striking the wood. He was seen loading the wood in his truck by hand, picking it up and throwing it into the bed of his pickup truck. This information was videoed by the investigator.
2. Investigation - This section begins on the second page of the report. It is a narrative about the investigation conducted by the investigator. For example;
Investigator received Doe's residence information from client. A drive by of the residence was conducted where photo's of a male in the driveway were taken. Photo's were provided to client to verify identity of the male as John Doe. Investigator conducted two days of surveillance on March 1 & 2, 2014, using a Canon D-2000 camera/video recorder. Video and photo's were saved to a micro sd card labeled Doe-March 2014, C#:14-03-00234. Video and photo's were provided to the client on March 8, 2014.
3. Interview(s) - Each interview is listed by name, date, and location. Here is an example:
Mary Adams, Client - 9:00am February 12, 2014 at Adams, Adams, & Logan Law Offices, 123 Main Street, Williamsburg, Virginia.
Client stated that Doe was currently on leave from work due to injuries. Nature of injuries was not provided to the investigator. Client indicated they suspected that Doe was not injured and wanted investigator to conduct surveillance of Doe for 4 hours over a period of two days. The days of the week for the surveillance to be conducted were provided by the Client based on information she had received from a confidential source.
4. Results - Any additional information, specifics about observations and/or the results of interviews are written in a narrative format. It is an expansion of the Synopsis section.
Investigator conducted 4 hours of surveillance of which 3.5 hours were recorded on video. In addition, 16 photo's were taken of Doe during the surveillance. This report was completed and delivered to Client on March 8, 2014 with the micro sd card of photo's and video, see attached receipt. During the surveillance, investigator witnessed Doe lifting items, wood, estimated to weigh approximately 30 pounds, use an axe by extending above his head and bringing it down on the wood with enough force to split it. In addition, Doe was observed running, kicking a soccer ball, and then later jogging for approximately 15 minutes over an estimated distance of 3/4's of a mile.
This simple method of formatting a written report makes it easy for the client to reference, and locate information quickly. For the investigator, it ensures that all information is included in the report.
Many experienced investigators will tell you that experience is critical to your success as a private investigator. Experience provides valuable learning lessons. Often, lessons that are learned from mistakes made in the field. But is experience enough?
Those who have been in the profession for a while will tell you, emphatically, "No". Continuing education/training is important to private investigators. Training helps you shortcut, and speed up your work processes. Learning new techniques, refreshing your knowledge of fundamentals, reduces errors you may make in the field, improving the quality of your work, which results in increased client satisfaction. Remember that the best advertising you can ever get is word of mouth...it's free, and best of all, convincing for a new client.
Think of continuing education as an opportunity to refresh your knowledge, return to the basic fundamentals, while learning new processes or procedures. Often, courses are built on the experience of several investigators with years of experience. What better way to learn than from the mistakes of others without experiencing the growing pains yourself!
At ProPIAcademy, we promote continued learning. Not just in industry specific topics that we offer, but we encourage all of our students to continue their education in other topics such as; learning tips and tricks for using common software such as Microsoft Office or Google Apps; studying how to grow a business through marketing and advertisement; budgeting; and other topics that will improve your ability to accomplish your job tasks.
So how do you choose what to learn about?
1. Learning should result in actual real-life application - In other words, you should be able to apply what you have learned in the field or in the office.
2. It should make your work easier - Ever struggle with formatting a document in a word processing program? Spent hours trying to get margins aligned or paste graphics in a document? Then look for learning opportunities that will help you improve those skills to save you time when completing the next report. Streamline your processes to not only save time, but to provide you with more satisfaction in doing a great job.
3. Build your business opportunities - As a private investigator it is about helping others, but it also includes the bottom line - Getting paid, and being profitable. Saving time in completing your tasks saves you money, and you can also learn about new business offerings.
Consider that continuing your education is an opportunity to improve your skills, increase your knowledge, and ultimately, build and streamline your business processes and procedures to save you time and money.
Still not convinced? Consider that spending a few hours refreshing your knowledge, or learning a new skill can translate in thousands of hours of business opportunities. Often an investment in one hour of learning can translate into increased profits!
Over time we can forget to use the basic fundamentals of private investigations, or step around them in an effort to save time. Private investigators that stick to the basics are the most successful, and often reach the conclusion in the same amount of time as someone trying to take a few shortcuts.
Following are a few reminders of the basics that will ensure you are conducting a proper investigation:
"Listen" to this young person talk about listening and how to do it!
You have developed your investigative technique over a period of time. You know what works and what doesn't yield the best results. Take time to review these basics of investigations and ensure you are implementing them in your work.
A question was asked by a student in private investigations; "When is the investigation over?" Of course the obvious answer is when the facts are gathered that are required by the client. But, the upon further the discussion, the real question was "When do you stop the investigation that hasn't found the required facts?" Great question.
First, let's be clear. Private investigations is a business. It requires profit to make it a viable operation. Unlike law enforcement, private investigators rely on payments from their client's to conduct the investigation which includes compensating the investigator for their time.
Here a few ideas, suggestions to help determine when the investigation stops:
1. Evidence required for the scope of the investigation has been collected, and you are within the agreed time constraints of your contract - In an infidelity investigation you project 12 hours surveillance. In the first three hours you collect enough evidence for the client to prove their case. Although there should be discussion to determine if the client wants you to continue, in many cases, you work will have concluded, even though you did not expend the full amount of time agreed upon. A professional private investigator, if agreed upon by the client, will cease the investigation at that time and bill for the expended hours.
2. When the money runs out, or the agreed time spent on the investigation has been reached - Let's reverse the example we used before. You are conducting an infidelity investigation. You have conducted surveillance for the agreed time of 12 hours. No results. The contract agreement has been reached and it is time to cease the investigation. Of course you will discuss with your client if they want to extend the terms of the contract for the investigation to continue, but it is concluded at that point.
3. When you encounter an "Unfounded" conclusion - In criminal investigations, you may find through your investigation that a crime may not have been committed. For example; missing funds are the result of sloppy bookkeeping, or you know you will not be able to identify a suspect with the evidence available. It is time to meet with the client and share what you have found, or not found, and cease the investigation.
4. When it doesn't feel just right - The toughest to determine, but all investigators have or will encounter that investigation where "something isn't quite right." Maybe you suspect a spouse of using you to stalk an ex-spouse, or there could be immoral reasons the client has engaged you in an investigation. It's often best to cease the investigation immediately, even at the risk of losing money.
5. When the client says so - Seasoned investigators have embarked on an investigation. Then after a short time, before the investigation is fully underway, they've been contacted by the client asking them to stop. They may have second thoughts, or financial challenges have arisen. Of course, when the client says stop, you stop.
It can be a difficult decision to cease an investigation, primarily when it hasn't been concluded. As a private investigator, you are in a business, and continuing investigations beyond a certain point will begin to erode your bottom line, which is your paycheck and your co-workers.
Your time is limited, and your client expects quick results from your surveillance. The clock is ticking. How can you maximize your time to get the most out of your surveillance when time counts? Following are a few tips from a few masters of surveillance:
1. Spend time planning. Seems simple, but it is one of the tasks that investigators fail to do well. They rush out to conduct surveillance only to find several hours wasted as their target sit's at home, or at work. Set a schedule for the most opportune times.
2. Interview your client to create a schedule. Identify work times, home times for infidelity cases, and when do they think the individual is more apt to be worth surveilling. This will vary depending on your investigation type. Infidelity cases can often be narrowed down as the client has direct knowledge of the target's schedule. Injury claim cases will require more time and there is limited information about their schedules.
3. Encourage your client to notify you of schedule changes, or changes in habits where and when possible. This information will help you maximize your surveillance time.
4. Get help! Having two investigators will help you cover more times of the day as well as switching off to reduce the chances of being caught. This is important with rural area surveillance as it will be easier for the target to identify you if you are working alone. Remember: Someone who knows they are being followed will probably change their activities to look innocent!
5. Make sure your recording equipment is charged, functioning properly and ready. Have back-ups in the event one fails. There's nothing worse than surveilling someone for hours only to miss the chance to get video when the recorder battery dies. One investigator shared that she spent hours waiting for the target and his girlfriend to emerge from a motel only to find her video recorder wouldn't work properly because of a software malfunction.
Note: This article is specific to fixed post surveillance.
Photographs and video recordings as evidence are a great way to gather the facts about your case when conducting surveillance. Photographs and video provide a record that others can be view to see exactly what you saw at the time. Remember the old line, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”
When photographing and gathering video of your subject, there are a few general rules, or guidelines that will ensure you capture exactly what is required for your case.
Capture both video, and photographs of your target. This ensures you have redundancy in the event one or the other is questioned, or, you have a back-up in the event one or the other fails. It also allows you to capture actions that may not be on one or the other, providing you with multiple fields of view. (Some investigators may use multiple recorders to capture more than one angle depending on the location and type of surveillance they are conducting)
Identify in advance what information you are trying to capture. Are you trying to capture your target exchanging information with someone? If so you will need equipment that will allow you take high resolution video or photos from a distance, such as using a zoom lens. If you are only trying to capture a meeting with someone else, then you need enough resolution to capture definition of facial features. Generally, full body shots are used.
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The Internet contains a lot of useful information for private investigators. It is a great way to locate people, find addresses, even locate court records, but conducting an Internet search can be time consuming. For example; if you were to search for “John Edward Smith”, Google returns over 112,000,000 possible results. You need a way to refine your search results to find exactly what you are looking for in the shortest time possible. There are a lot of operators such as minus signs to exclude words you don’t want, using site: to search only a specific website, and many others. Who can remember all of these?
Google to the rescue!
There is an easier way to conduct your search getting better results without having to memorize all of the operators. On the main Google search page there is a section that is often overlooked, it is the “Settings” link. Below is a video that shows exactly where it is. When you click on “Settings” then select “Advanced Search” from the drop down list, you get a new search page with several options to narrow your search.
Give it a try!
The simple answer to this question is;
Private Investigators have the necessary training and skills to identify and gather relevant to the case in support of the attorney and their client reducing the time required on attorney and their staff to prepare for a case.
Attorneys should think of private investigators as an extension of their staff. Private investigators will work for the attorney, consult with as they learn new information, and provide an investigative plan to ensure they are targeting the necessary information.
More specifically, following are few services that an attorney should contract with a private investigator to provide:
1. Locate Witnesses - The strength of a case can rely on witnesses, or the lack of witnesses, to an incident. Private investigators can assist in identifying potential witnesses, determining the information they can provide relevant to the case, and assist in determining the accuracy of the information they provide. No attorney wants to be in court to find their star witness wasn't even at the scene when the incident occurred.
2. Interviewing individuals - Private investigators are trained interviewers and interrogators. They are creative in finding the needed information. Conducting interviews, prior to a deposition for example, can be time consuming. Employing a private investigator will assist the attorney in identifying a list of individuals for the next phase of the case. Even reveal information they didn't know existed.
3. Public records research - Private investigators have established information sources to gather the needed information. Chances are, a private investigator can quickly gather the information you need for a specific case. This saves you time and money.
4. Surveillance - Infidelity cases are prime example. Private investigators have the equipment, and more importantly, they have the training and skills to conduct surveillance. It is important to note that surveillance is a specialized skill set. Attorneys should look to private investigators that have the experience in conducting surveillance to get the most for their investment.
5. Gathering information, evidence - Give a list of questions to a private investigator that you need answered and they will return with a complete report, detailed records, and will maintain a chain-of-custody for use in court. For example; "Are there additional licensing board complaints?", "Where were the witnesses standing when the incident occurred?", "What are the company's assets?", "What is the background of John Doe look like?". All of this information can help you make decisions on how to handle the case going forward, avoiding potentially costly mistakes.
When completed, the private investigator will deliver a written report, copies of evidence, and then be available to testify if required. They are trained to do all of the needed steps to help you prepare for your case.
We have selected 10 articles from the Pro PI Academy blog and packaged them into a E-Book (e-pub) and PDF formats.
You can download the articles, keep them on your phone, computer, or tablet, and refer to them anytime. As well as having a table of contents that can take you directly to the article you want to read.
Download them here.
As a private investigator you rely on information from others to complete your investigation. If you are a business owner, you rely on callbacks for more business. These tips will help you increase the chances that someone will call you when with information or new business:
1. Leave them your contact information - Simple, but often investigators fail to leave a business card. Encourage them to call you. Encourage them to reach out if they just need some advice. "Here's my contact information. Feel free to call if I can help you."
2. Develop rapport, a relationship with the individual - If they feel they know you, they will be more inclined to call you back. Spend time building the relationship, not only for an effective interview, but to put them at ease.
3. Check up on them - If they are a victim, make a point to call them back after the investigation to see how they are getting along. Just a brief phone call will allow you to reaffirm the relationship, continue the rapport. You never know, they may refer someone to you for your next case. Maybe a brief email too.
4. No question is unimportant - You may get calls from witnesses or clients with simple questions. Answer them promptly and provide help to them when you can. Builds trust, and, yes, it continues to maintain the relationship. A quick call from a client with a simple question is a great sign that they will call you in the future for their investigative needs.
5. Keep a contact list of individuals you have talked with - Using your contact list on your phone or email, create a contact list. Include a note on how you met them, a personal piece of information you have learned about them. This will prompt your memory on how you met and the context. For example; "Jane Doe, witness in Pierce Company investigation. Has a birthday in June, son that plays little league baseball named Bill." Entering this information in your contact list helps you remember as well.
Building effective relationships with those that you encounter will improve your investigations and possibly build long term business relationships.
Pro PI staff
Experienced professionals and trainers.