We are often asked by the public and students new to the private investigations industry, what are the differences or similarities of private investigative work as compared to police detectives. So we thought it would be helpful to compare and contrast both roles.
Although both use the same techniques and methods for conducting an investigation, there are significant differences. If you are a victim of a crime you may work with the local police detectives. If you have the need for assistance with a civil matter, administrative type of investigation or when the police do not have the needed resources, then you will call upon a private investigator. Infidelity, internal company investigations, or even crimes where the local police are unable to dedicate resources, are examples of when hiring a private detective is the right choice.
Chances are as a private investigator you have a format that you use for organizing your case files. Periodically, it is important to ensure your case file is organized to meet your client's needs. Here are a few tips that may help you tune-up your case files, or check to ensure you are providing the best product for your client.
PROPIACADEMY TIP: When proofreading for spelling and proper use of words, try reading the report backwards. This allows you to focus on spelling and proper word use.
Your report is the final product that represents your work. Chances are it will be read by several individuals depending on the type of case. It may be presented in a court of law, read by prosecutors, law enforcement or others. Proper organization will improve your final report product and reflect well on your work.
Interviewing is one of the critical skills that private investigators bring to the table in any investigation. Gaining information from witnesses, suspects, and subject matter experts often is the primary method that private investigators use to solve a case.
Establishing rapport with the person being interviewed is the first step in any interview, increasing the chances that the private investigator will gain the information they need. Before an interview, gather information about the individual such as reading statements they have provided prior to the interview, understanding their role in a company, or the reason they are being interviewed. Then;
Building rapport requires effort on the part of the private investigator in an interview situation. Think of building rapport as making an investment in the investigation. It requires a few minutes of time but can provide excellent results.
Managing multiple investigations can be challenging when you have limited investigative resources. Great time management is critical to being successful, by meeting client deadlines while completing quality investigations. Here are a few tips we share with our students in how to manage multiple cases effectively and efficiently:
Seldom can investigators conduct their investigations in a totally linear fashion - completing one investigation before beginning the next. Managing your time wisely will improve your ability to complete investigations in a timely manner, while ensuring you maintain the highest quality which includes accuracy, being effective in completing your tasks.
Information you collect from interviews, documents, and your investigative logs are the foundation of your work product. As a private investigator you are not immune to data losses that may occur accidentally or as the result of a criminal act. Further, the information you collect is private and belongs to your client. As a private investigator you must protect your digital and hard-copy information.
Protecting Hard-Copy Data
You collect documents, and other forms of paper information for use in your cases. In many cases, these documents are evidence for the case. Here are a few tips to protect these hard-copy, paper documents:
* Make working copies - Using your scanner or copier, make copies of the original documents. Once complete, seal the documents in sealed envelopes, (writing identifying information on the envelope before placing the documents inside), then store them safely and securely. You can use the copies for your investigative file as you work the case. You can make notes, highlight information, etc. on your working copies making it easier to find information you need.
* Store in secure manner - Originals should be stored in a lockable, fire-proof filing cabinet or safe. Fire-proof, lockable storage is not inexpensive, but when you consider the protection afforded the investment is well worth it. Also, the cabinet or safe should be stored in a secured room for extra protection. Not only do these cabinets protect the documents, they also help maintain your chain-of-custody when you keep a log to show when the room and cabinet was accessed and by whom.
Protecting Digital Data
Chances are you are using a lot of digital data in the form of electronic documents, photo's, video's, etc. Loss of this data can cripple your investigative efforts. Protecting your digital data is more important than ever. Consider these tips:
* Secure Online Storage - Several years ago we would not have considered storing digital information online. Secure, online data storage, or "in the cloud", has become a preferred method for private investigators today. Several companies offer secure cloud storage solutions. With criminals changing their tactics on a daily basis, using a secure online data storage service ensures there is someone protecting your data around the clock. Most importantly, your data is maintained in the event you have a hardware failure. Ever turn your computer on and it never boots up?
* Working Copies - Depending on your investigation you will want to make working copies. This is easily done in hard-copy or by creating a copy for your use while working the case. (Remember, every time you access a document it is time/date stamped.) For emails and documents make a pdf copy that you work from, make notes, etc.
* Two-step authentication processes - Of course if your password is compromised or an employee clicks on one of those phishing emails, all of your digital information could be at risk. Two-step authentication protects your email, and data (if you select the right service) from phishing scams, or if your password is compromised. You can purchase security keys that protect your accounts from phishing scams.
As a private investigator you are responsible for securing hard-copy and digital evidence, protecting it from tampering or inadvertent loss. This has become so important that we train our investigators in data protection methods to include secured storage, enforcing strong passwords, and using two-step authentication with security keys.
Invest some time, and yes, money, to protect your documents and digital data.
There is a difference between being a “good” private investigator and being the “best”. Often students ask the question, what does it take to the best? The first response is, “You must be honest, trustworthy, motivated, and creative”, among other traits. But these are the baseline, or foundational traits required for all investigators. The real question is, “What separates the best investigators from the good ones?”
Here are my thoughts:
Some of our students have asked the question, "When working a case where an attorney is involved on behalf of another party, who is the private investigator's client?"
Great question and the quick answer is "Your client -- the one that is paying you." Of course that does not always answer the question satisfactorily depending on the circumstances. Actually the better question is; "How does a private investigator work with multiple client's, or when there are two needs that are potentially in conflict?"
Consider this case study:
Investigator is contracted by an attorney for an infidelity case. Attorney's client, the "spouse-client", calls the investigator and shares information that may be helpful in scheduling surveillance, but the attorney disagrees. The spouse has received a call from a friend that says his wife is meeting her alleged boyfriend tomorrow night at a restaurant.
The easy response for the investigator is to follow the instructions of the attorney as they hold the contract and that may be the only answer as working outside of the contract could place the investigator in a situation where they will not be paid. Of course, there may be a missed opportunity in identifying, or not identifying, potential infidelity on the part of the spouse.
What would you do?
Click the Read More link below to learn what the investigator actually did in this case.
Disclaimer: This is an opinion, specific to privately owned vehicles or privately owned devices, and should not be viewed as legal advice....read on.
Use of GPS by private investigators to track a target for surveillance is a great tool and there are many opportunities where it can facilitate an investigation. As a private investigator you must consider all of the potential challenges when deploying GPS tools in the field for investigations involving privately owned devices or vehicles.
When considering the use of GPS we have compiled a few considerations before you deploy it in the field:
Use of GPS will continue for awhile to be controversial in legal proceedings as well as in the public eye, with or without guiding laws. As a private investigator you must protect your business, yourself from potential civil litigation or criminal charges. Consider the alternatives, then get legal advice.
From the business perspective you can find it hard to say "no" to client when discussing a potential investigation. It is important to know your limits and respond accordingly. As an experienced investigator you have, or will, receive that call to consider an investigation. An investigation that may be beyond your level of expertise, or capabilities.
So how can you still say "yes" to an investigation, when your resources and capabilities are limited?
Start by identifying your weak points, areas where you may not have the required expertise, or for times when you have a heavy case load then, prepare in advance.
By identifying partners with the necessary skills and expertise, establishing agreements in advance, and offering your services in return, you can expand your investigative offerings. This will put you in a position to accept almost any investigation at times you have a heavy workload, or the investigation requires skills you do not have.
Employers are conducting background investigations of potential employees on a more frequent basis than before. Ensuring employees are truthful in the information they provide the potential employer, avoiding potential civil liability from negligent hiring claims, to increasing the chances for the success of the employee in their position are all reasons approximately 70% of all employers conduct some type of background investigation or screening.
Private investigators often provide background investigation services for their clients as they have the expertise and experience in conducting interviews, verification of credential information, and providing written reports. As a private investigator conducting background investigations there are steps you need to take. Following are a few critical steps:
As a private investigator conducting background investigations for private employers you need to ensure that you comply with all laws to protect you and the client. Conducting background investigations that follow the same format, gather the same information, that comply with all laws, are a must to protect your firm and your client.
Pro PI staff
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