Saturday, September 12, 2015

So you want to hire (or perhaps become) a Private Investigator. There are some things you should know. (Part 3 & Conclusion)

This informational essay, in three parts, is best read in order:

Who becomes a private investigator?

The answer to that is almost anyone who is interested, over the age of 18, who has a clean record. 

The background check performed by the state licensing agency is probably the principal benefit to the public, and does give the public some assurance that they are dealing with a somewhat reputable person.  Please note that I didn’t say the person was necessarily qualified.

My personal opinion, albeit somewhat controversial, is that I find it hard to believe that anyone, without at least five years of law enforcement or other very intensive investigative experience, can be an effective private investigator.  There is just too much to know.  There are too many unanticipated situations that can quickly arise and become a serious liability issue, a violation of law, or even dangerous.  If you put your faith in such a person, all I can say is ‘good luck.’

What about private investigators’ fees?  What’s fair?  Well, it’s kind of an over-generalization, and a cliché, to say that you ‘get what you pay for.’  This is not necessarily true.  There are some very good investigators who specialize in certain areas (like surveillance) with fees that are relatively modest.  On the other hand, you can run into private investigators that have fees that are over-blown and exploitive.  Be careful and do your homework.  If a PI is very qualified and has good references, you are better served to consider this option – even if their fees seem a little higher.  A bad, inexperienced, or poorly trained PI can cause a client untold grief.  Moreover, you may not have actually saved any money.  Good PIs cover a lot of ground quickly.

Do private investigators have variable fee structures?  Yes, they often do.  This is usually based on good business practices and self-protection.  Is the client a potential repeat client?  Am I assured that I will not have any collection issues with this client?  Is the proposed case very complex and demanding, with short deadlines?  Nonetheless, professional investigators should be able to explain their ‘fee structure’ without too much hesitation – and be able to furnish you this information in writing.

Regarding fees in Oregon, particularly in the Portland Metro area, a potential client should expect investigative fees in the neighborhood of $80 to $150 per hour, plus expenses.  If you are quoted more than that, I would spend some time looking elsewhere.

If you are shopping for a PI in a major metropolitan area such as New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco expect the hourly rate to be higher.  Rural areas, the hourly rate will be somewhat less.

How do I locate a private investigator?  Well, the telephone book is probably your worst resource.  Internet searches are good and becoming better.  If you can get a referral, that’s great.  Attorneys are sometimes a good source for referrals.  Professional associations can be a good source for referrals, particularly associations which require or expect certifications, and/or standards for continuing education.  A quick word about ‘certifications’ (and there are many floating about):  some ‘certifications’ can be simply purchased for a small fee, and as a result are meaningless.  Always investigate the certifying association or body, and what is required to obtain a particular certification. These days this is easily done on the internet.  As with any profession, private investigation is definitely a profession filled with many skilled, educated and experienced people, and unfortunately quite a few duds.  Ask questions, get quotes and be an informed consumer.  If you don’t, you could quickly find yourself on the receiving end of a civil suit.

When I search for qualified private investigators in other areas of the country, I almost always look for someone with a law enforcement background.  Again, anyone, and I mean almost anyone short of an identifiable ex-felon, can become a private investigator.  A potential client should look for experience, references, and educational background – anything about the private investigator that you could conceivably verify, and would tend to give him or her a degree of credibility.

Good private investigators do have a certain amount of overhead:

Some have offices and staff.

Truly competent private investigators will subscribe to several databases, not customarily available to the general public.  They are not free.  These databases greatly expedite investigations, not to mention that they contribute professional thoroughness.

Advertising is critical.  If a PI doesn’t advertise through various outlets, the public just won’t find him.

All licensed PIs are required to take courses on various investigative subjects, plus ethics.
They belong to professional associations (all have dues).

If ‘certified,’ the PI will have additional fees to maintain the certification – as well as educational requirements that must be fulfilled.

All PIs usually possess an abundance of investigation related equipment such as cameras (still and motion), recording devices, tracking equipment, telescopic equipment, and – if they do quite a bit of surveillance – they will have a specially outfitted van.

Last, but not least, the professional PI must carry Errors and Omissions Insurance as a protection for the Client and for himself.

Final Thought:  Many believe that private investigation is easy.  Those people watch too much television.  It isn’t easy.  It can be difficult, stressful and sometimes dangerous.

Oh and one other thought:  As the client of a PI, you are invariably going to reveal some information that you consider confidential – perhaps even intimate details of your personal life.  Pick someone that you feel you can trust.

True Nelson

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