What Every Private Investigator Wishes You Knew About Private Investigators

Private investigators unite! Here is my own top 10 not-so-common bits of knowledge about private investigators that I wish were more common.

We are not all former law enforcement

Though private investigation is an industry that is often attractive to former or retired law enforcement, there are many private investigators who emerge from non-law enforcement backgrounds too.

Take Hal Humphreys, a former real estate appraiser, at Find Investigations in Nashville, Tennessee. Or Cynthia Hetherington, a former librarian, at Hetherington Group in Wanaque, New Jersey. Joseph Jones of Bosco Legal Services in Southern California started off sweeping parking lots before working his way to the vice president position of his family-owned investigative business. I myself am a former school teacher.

Many of us double as small business owners

Many of my colleagues, myself included, are solo practitioners or have a very small number of employees. We are not only working doggedly as investigators, but we are also working within the realm of small business owners. We investigate, but we also market, budget, troubleshoot technology, network, and plan.

We don’t all carry a gun. Most of us do not.

I know this is disappointing, but most private investigators I know do not carry a gun. Those who work in security, executive protection, and even sometimes surveillance are those most likely to carry a weapon.

I don’t have much need for a gun on my hip as a sit at my computer and talk on the phone. My tools are more along the lines of databases and learning how to be more persuasive on a phone call.

Movies and TV shows have it all wrong

I like exciting and unrealistic cinema just as much as the next guy, though I do sometimes balk at the stupidity of the main character who breaks 17 laws in a matter of 45 seconds on a crime show.

For my husband who works in the medical profession, he absolutely cannot help but to sigh and snort every time a medical scene is presented unrealistically.

It is what it is. Sure, it makes for good entertainment (even this is sometimes highly questionable), but it’s far from realistic.

The reality is that if a lead detective actually conducted himself in such a way in real life, he would be fired on the spot and probably land himself in jail. Similarly, the doctor who just performed the life saving procedure on Grey’s Anatomy would have killed the patient in real life. Aaaaand would have probably been stripped of his medical license.

Some of us spend more time behind a computer screen than we do in the field

This is me. I spend way more time holed up in my office than I do out and about. And it’s not like Penelope Garcia from Criminal Minds either. It’s a lot of mundane researching and fitting the pieces together with little fanfare and very few suspenseful moments.

We have to abide by the same laws you do

You cannot trespass onto someone’s property. You cannot obtain detailed cell phone records. You cannot add spyware onto someone’s computer. You cannot gain access to someone else’s financial records. You cannot hack into a database or someone’s computer.

Unless we have consent or a subpoena, neither can we.

Our industry is not as exciting as you think it is

Private investigators do far more ordinary work than you think they do. We are the courthouse researchers, the public record getters, the skilled interviewers, and the fact gatherers.

See? Told you.

We find our work interesting, but you probably wouldn’t.

Surveillance is 5% excitement and 95% boring as hell, at best

Many private investigators don’t even conduct surveillance. But for those who do, most of them will tell you that sitting in the same position for hours in an oven of a vehicle in the summer and a freezer of a vehicle in the winter is not the most riveting of jobs.

I’ve stared so long at a door, waiting for it to open, that I can’t see straight. I’ve conducted hours of surveillance with absolutely no activity whatsoever. It really is 5% excitement and 95% boring as hell most of the time.

But for those who do it and love it, we thank you.

We often don’t share much about our profession because it takes too long to explain

Unless you are ready for a sit down conversation with me, I’d rather not be asked what I do for a living.

When I tell people I am a private investigator, most of them conjure up images of me catching cheating spouses and conducting sketchy surveillance.

Sometimes, I don’t think people believe me when I tell them I sit in the comfortableness of my office most of the time while I’m conducting my investigations.

And when I tell them much of my work consists of searching for biological families and adoptees, I’m pretty sure I read disappointment on their faces every time… unless they are a birth parent or adoptee, of course.

Most of us are not shady characters who make a habit of breaking the law

Most states have specific qualifications for private investigators to become licensed. Oftentimes, this includes but is not limited to prior investigative experience, a background check, an exam, and insurance requirements.

Most of us perform our jobs well within the confines of the law. In fact, since private investigators are placed under a microscope more so than the regular Joe, we take special care to operate above board ethically, morally, and lawfully.

Private investigators, care to add to my list?