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.
Private investigators are professional fact finders. They gather information and determine if the information is factual. Here are some tips to ensure you are gathering and reporting the facts:
Gathering and identifying factual information is your job. It is the key to maintaining your reputation as a private investigator and being successful in your job. No one wants to report something as a fact when it may not be.
Reprint/publication with permission from Holmes-Tech LLC
Working less sounds great but how do we do it? Simple answer: Make yourself work less each day by using the Force! Your mind force that is, and "NO Luke, I'm not your father so stop calling me!"
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.
At one time or another, all private investigators have encountered a client that is difficult to manage. Notice the word "manage". Clients that call constantly for updates, their expectations exceed their fiscal resources, or those that do not accept the factual results of an investigation can be challenging to deal with. Disclaimer: We have learned there is no one technique or method that will always work.
As a private investigator you must manage your clients to ensure you are providing the best investigative services. Managing a clients expectations is a two phase process: 1. Prior to the investigation; and 2. During the investigation. (We've found that phase 1 is often the most important)
1. Prior to the investigation - Prevention is the best management technique for any private investigator. Taking preventative steps, prior to the investigation, will help reduce the chances of conflict with the most difficult of clients.
First, gain a clear understanding of the investigation to use in developing a clear investigative estimate. Investing the time to gather the information during the intake phase of an investigation will allow you to identify any potential areas where the client may have unrealistic expectations. Listen for verbal clues for example when the client says; "It's obvious they are cheating", "It's a simple case that shouldn't take long". Warning - if it is "obvious" or "it's a simple case..." then they don't really need your services. This is often they attempt to reduce the costs of the investigation.
Second, write a clear investigative scope statement for the contract. Review it with the client and of course have them sign acknowledging the statement. This will assist you in the event they refuse to pay. When discussing the investigative scope be careful what you say. Stick to the content of the statement. Making comments like, "Of course we will take extra steps where needed", Or, "This is just a formality." Will only add to the client's expectations. If you have investigators working for you, make sure they understand to stick to the scope of the investigation.
Third, develop a communications plan. Identify a schedule for providing the client with updates as to your progress. It may be once a week, once a month, whatever the schedule make it reasonable for both you and the client.
2. During the investigation - One guiding principle we always encourage investigators to consider during an investigation is to, "Under promise and over deliver." Using this principle, your client should be happier with your response to their investigation, for example if you promise to update them weekly, but call them twice a week you are exceeding their expectations. Another example of this principle is identifying the time line for your investigation. Most client complaints are it took too long to complete. So if you feel it should only take a week to complete, consider setting a goal of two weeks. This allows for those unexpected occurrences such as illness, or being unable to schedule interviews.
With these ideas in mind, following are some specific ideas from private investigators in dealing with a few types of difficult client's:
- Client that calls a-lot - One investigator explains their approach - "When I start receiving multiple calls from a client, outside of the communication plan, I'm always professional and always take their calls. You never know when they may have information that can assist with the investigation. If they are only calling for updates, then I politely refer them to the communications plan. Like, "I don't have any additional information at this time. I will update you on such-and-such date as we agreed. That will allow me time to further develop information."
- The "add-ons" client - An investigator has a great way for handling the client, that once the scope has been agreed upon, they call and want the investigator to do more. This investigator, when talking to the client, offers to revise the investigative scope statement then provide them with an estimate for the additional cost. She shared, "Some clients sign the contract then either they think of things later they want done, or think of how the investigation should be conducted either by talking with friends or colleagues. I had one client that got ideas on what I should be doing by watching crime shows. When I explain it would increase their costs and require a revision to the contract they often decline."
- "You're not doing anything!" - The most difficult client to deal with is the one that is almost never happy with your investigation. They feel you are not fast enough, or you are not completing the investigation appropriately. (This can include the "add-on" type client as well) One private investigator shares the harsh realities of managing this type of client - "If early in the investigation I realize that I am dealing with a client that will never be happy I consider terminating the contract. It's hard to give up the opportunity to make money, some returns are not worth the challenges. If I decide to terminate the contract I explain to the client that I may not be able to meet their needs or expectations then offer suggestions of other investigators that might be able to help them. Sometimes they calm down and listen to me, others will take me up on the offer to release them from the contract. I always bill them for the time and offer to share the information I have gathered with the new investigator. This helps protect my firms reputation, and avoid spending an inordinate amount of time fighting with the client."
One investigator offers the best advice for dealing with any difficult client - "I always practice empathy with my client's. I mostly deal with divorce types of investigations and receiving numerous calls, or having upset clients about the progress in an investigation is routine. I try to put myself in their place - realizing they are emotionally involved, totally wrapped up in the investigation. I often find I am as much a sounding board for them, like a counselor, as much as an investigator."
As a private investigator you can never completely avoid the difficult client. In some cases you may even stop the investigation when the difficulties outweigh the potential risks to your firms reputation. Thinking proactively, in a preventative fashion during the intake phase and carefully responding to a difficult client during the investigation can help you lessen the impacts of challenging clients. And, yes, sometimes you just have to listen.
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:
In our training for private investigators we teach them how to take effective notes during interviews, conducting surveillance and conducting document research. We teach a few different note taking techniques to allow the investigator to adapt to the situation and their own preferred method.
Why is note taking so important? Notes identify facts, track evidence, improve your memory of information received, and they serve as the basis for your final report.
An experienced investigator commented; "With an empty notebook about the investigation I have nothing."
Here are some techniques to refresh your note taking skills:
Developing and maintaining your note taking skills as a private investigator is critical to your success. It only takes a little time and is invaluable to your investigation.
Pro PI staff
Experienced professionals and trainers.