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.
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