Private detectives are freelance professional investigators hired by individuals to assist in legal proceedings and other private matters. Quite often, private detectives provide surveillance, run background checks, trace missing persons, or access records not available to the general public.
Attorneys employ private detectives to locate and interview potential witnesses, verify alibis or assist local law enforcement in criminal investigations. Many private detectives are retired civilian or military police officers with specialized training in criminal and civil investigative techniques.
While Hollywood movies often glamorize private detective work, most investigators work in relative obscurity. An insurance company paying out on a disability claim may seek evidence of fraud, for example. A private detective may arrange for surveillance of the beneficiary's home or workplace in order to prove or disprove the disability. A husband may suspect his spouse of infidelity, so private detectives may follow the wife's movements or use undercover techniques to elicit a confession. Most work performed by private investigators is no more glamorous or dangerous than a trip to the local Department of Motor Vehicles or tax assessor's office.
This isn't to say that private detectives don't face a certain amount of risk in their workday. Private investigators are not sworn law officers, so they only have the same powers of arrest as any other citizen. Private detectives may have to interrogate hostile witnesses or ask inflammatory questions on behalf of their clients. Getting people to admit self-incriminating behavior requires a certain combination of psychological manipulation and self-confidence, which successful private detectives often have in abundance.
Hiring a private investigator is not an inexpensive process, but it may be the best resource for those who seek more immediate answers than traditional law enforcement can provide. Private detectives usually carry much smaller caseloads, which means more time can be devoted to a specific client's needs. Experienced PIs may also have sources of information not readily available to local law enforcement. If an attorney hires a private detective, the expense may be added to the client's final bill or paid out as part of the judgment. Private detectives usually charge a standard fee per day, plus any other expenses incurred on the job, including housing, transportation, or food.
As in many other professions, the quality of service can vary from agency to agency. Some private detectives specialize in surveillance or insurance fraud, while others offer general services to fit a client's specific needs. Potential clients should ask probing questions before hiring any private investigator. What is their professional background? How many years have they been in business? What is their area of expertise? Have they handled cases similar to yours in the past? When it comes to hiring private detectives, experience and discretion are vital qualities to seek.