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).
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.
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.
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 you often find yourself in situations where your safety may be at risk. Interviewing aggressive suspects; conducting surveillance; and being in unsafe areas. Often private investigators can become complacent about their safety, whether having interviewed several individuals without incident; working in unsafe areas several times without incident; or conducting surveillance without being approached by the target. It is important that you always think "Safety First!!!"
Safety First!!! As a private investigator you have to be aware, identify the potential risks you face and be prepared to take action. Think through the following every time you leave the office:
Unlike law enforcement, most private investigators do not have the assistance of others to rush to their aid in seconds. Private investigators must identify the potential risks and be prepared to implement mitigating responses which can include protective equipment, maintaining an awareness of evacuation routes, surroundings or taking other evasive actions. The key is to always think SAFETY FIRST!!! If you encounter a situation that is potentially dangerous? Exit, evacuate, run if needed to a place of safety. Only use physical force as a last resort to protect yourself.
Here are some other safety tips whether working or off-duty to help you develop habits that will make you think Safety First!!!!!:
Hopefully you have gathered that this article is to get you to think??????? Yes!!!! Think Safety First!!!! At all times!!!!
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.
Pro PI staff
Experienced professionals and trainers.