The term evokes many images, such as Jack Nicholson in Chinatown or a Raymond Chandler novel. What about that wretched and bogus show Cheaters where the host confronts his targets? Perhaps you hear “private eye” and think of the local scandal involving private investigator Chris Butler, who faces federal indictment in a notorious corruption case.
Our profession has its image problems. I can’t deny it. However, most licensed private investigators such as me and my partner are more ethical, trustworthy, educated and mainstream than you might realize. A good private investigator operates under the radar, getting answers, solving problems and running a business. We might be more insurance adjuster than James Bond.
In California you need 6,000 hours, or three years full-time experience, on the job and then must pass an exam to earn your license. Private investigators come from backgrounds as diverse as former journalists, such as me, to former elite armed forces members, such as my partner. I also know former therapists, teachers and paralegals in the profession. It’s a job that takes more brain than brawn but you have to possess guts, heart and tenacity to succeed.
What a good investigator does is separate fiction from fact. We are professionals at verification and gathering evidence. A good investigator is more fact gatherer than advocate, which is the job of an attorney. A qualified private investigator is resourceful but knows exactly where that ethical line in the sand is drawn. ( I like to sleep well. If I wouldn’t feel comfortable telling my mother or a jury how I obtained evidence, then I don’t use such methods.)
Private investigators are used from Fortune 500 companies to solo practitioner law firms. We do everything from background checks, to asset searches to competitive intelligence in the corporate setting.
When I earned my license in 1996 I read at least a few slanted articles predicting the internet would put private detectives out of business because databases and other information that took days to accumulate would now be available at the touch of the button. The problem in the thesis is that there is so much information that it takes a trained eye to sift through and separate the gold from the dreck. Plus, even though it’s 2011 not all can be learned from just sitting at a computer. Good private investigators do more than just sit behind a desk at a computer or curl up with a laptop.
(Spencer Elrod Services, Inc., serves business, attorneys and select private clients.)