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A private investigator, private detective, PI, or private eye, is a person who undertakes investigations, usually for a private citizen or some other entity not involved with a government or police organization. They often work for attorneys in civil cases or on behalf of a defense attorney. Many work for insurance companies to investigate suspicious claims. Before the advent of no-fault divorce, many private investigators were hired to search out evidence of adultery or other illegal conduct within marriage to establish grounds for a divorce. Despite the lack of legal necessity for such evidence in many jurisdictions, according to press reports collecting evidence of adultery or other "bad behavior" by spouses and partners is still one of the most profitable activities investigators undertake.
Many jurisdictions require PIs to be licensed, and they may or may not carry firearms depending on local laws. Some are ex-police officers. They are expected to keep detailed notes and to be prepared to testify in court regarding any of their observations on behalf of their clients. Taking great care to remain within the law (e.g., being forbidden to trespass on private property or break into homes) is also required, on pain of losing their licenses as well as facing criminal charges. Irregular hours may also be required when performing surveillance work (e.g., outside someone's house during the early hours of the morning).
PIs also undertake a large variety of work that is not usually associated with the industry in the mind of the public. For example, many PIs are involved in process serving, the personal delivery of summons, subpoenas and other legal documents to parties in a legal case. The tracing of absconding debtors can also form a large part of a PI's work load. Many agencies specialize in a particular field of expertise. For example, some PI agencies deal only in tracing. Others may specialize in technical surveillance countermeasures, or TSCM, which is the locating and dealing with unwanted forms of electronic surveillance (for example, a bugged boardroom for industrial espionage purposes).
Increasingly, modern PIs prefer to be known as "professional investigators" rather than "private investigators" or "private detectives". This is a response to the seedy image that is sometimes attributed to the profession and an effort to establish and demonstrate the industry to be a proper and respectable profession.
In some countries through out the world Private Investigations are illegal. In the following countries private investigations thrive; United States of America, Mexico, Canada, United Kingdom, France, Spain, South Africa, Australia and Japan. In South Africa Private Investigators are in very high demand due to poor police work and high crime. Other countries through out the world have Private Investigators but a lot of their duties are restricted. In South Korea surveillance is allowed only in insurance fraud situations. In India, working the same case may have to speak with a large network of people, drive long distances and contact several companies over a weeks time to solve the case. Some countries in the world require licensing of Private Detectives, but most do not.
Private detectives and investigators often work irregular hours because of the need to conduct surveillance and contact people who are not available during normal working hours. Early morning, evening, weekend, and holiday work is common.
Many detectives and investigators spend time away from their offices conducting interviews or doing surveillance, but some work in their office most of the day conducting computer searches and making phone calls. Those who have their own agencies and employ other investigators may work primarily in an office and have normal business hours.
When the private investigator is working on a case away from the office, the environment might range from plush boardrooms to seedy bars. Store and hotel detectives work in the businesses that they protect. Investigators generally work alone, but they sometimes work with others during surveillance or when following a subject in order to avoid detection by the subject.
Some of the work involves confrontation, so the job can be stressful and dangerous. Some situations call for the investigator to be armed, such as certain bodyguard assignments for corporate or celebrity clients. Detectives and investigators who carry handguns must be licensed by the appropriate authority. In most cases, however, a weapon is not necessary, because the purpose of the work is gathering information and not law enforcement or criminal apprehension. Owners of investigative agencies have the added stress of having to deal with demanding and sometimes distraught clients.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
There are no formal education requirements for most private detective and investigator jobs, although many private detectives have college degrees or have taken legal or criminal investigation courses. Private detectives and investigators typically have previous experience in other occupations. Some work initially for insurance or collections companies, in the private security industry, or as paralegals. Many investigators enter the field after serving in law enforcement, the military, government auditing and investigative positions, or federal intelligence jobs.
Former law enforcement officers, military investigators, and government agents, who are frequently able to retire after 25 years of service, often become private detectives or investigators in a second career. Others enter from such diverse fields as finance, accounting, commercial credit, investigative reporting, insurance, and law. These individuals often can apply their prior work experience in a related investigative specialty. A few enter the occupation directly after graduation from college, generally with associate’s or bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice, police science or with a private investigation diploma.
The majority of United States states and the District of Columbia require private detectives and investigators to be licensed. Licensing requirements vary, however. Seven states—- Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, and South Dakota—- have no statewide licensing requirements, some states have very few requirements, and many other states have stringent regulations. A growing number of states are enacting mandatory training programs for private detectives and investigators. For example, the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services of the California Department of Consumer Affairs requires private investigators to be 18 years of age or older, have a combination of education in police science, criminal law, or justice and experience equaling 3 years (6,000 hours) of investigative experience, pass a criminal history background check by the California Department of Justice and the FBI (in most States, convicted felons cannot be issued a license), and receive a qualifying score on a two-hour written examination covering laws and regulations. There are additional requirements for a firearms permit.
For private detective and investigative jobs, most employers look for individuals with ingenuity, persistence, and assertiveness. A candidate must not be afraid of confrontation, should communicate well, and should be able to think on his or her feet. Good interviewing and interrogation skills also are important and usually are acquired in earlier careers in law enforcement or other fields. Because the courts often are the ultimate judge of a properly conducted investigation, the investigator must be able to present the facts in a manner that a jury will believe.
Training in subjects such as criminal justice and police science can be helpful to aspiring private detectives and investigators. Most corporate investigators must have a bachelor’s degree, preferably in a business-related field. Some corporate investigators have a master’s degree in business administration or a law degree, while others are CPAs. Corporate investigators hired by large companies may receive formal training from their employers on business practices, management structure, and various finance-related topics. The screening process for potential employees typically includes a background check for a criminal history.
Some investigators receive certification from a professional organization to demonstrate competency in a field. For example, the National Association of Legal Investigators (NALI) confers the Certified Legal Investigator designation to licensed investigators who devote a majority of their practice to negligence or criminal defense investigations. To receive the designation, applicants must satisfy experience, educational, and continuing-training requirements and must pass written and oral exams administered by the NALI.
Most private-detective agencies are small, with little room for advancement. Usually, there are no defined ranks or steps, so advancement takes the form of increases in salary and assignment status. Many detectives and investigators work for detective agencies at the beginning of their careers and, after a few years, start their own firms. Corporate and legal investigators may rise to supervisor or manager of the security or investigations department.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition, Private Detectives and Investigators, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos157.htm (visited November 13, 2006).
History of the Private Investigator
In 1833 Eugène François Vidocq, a French soldier, criminal and privateer, founded the first known private detective agency, Le bureau des renseignments (Office of Intelligence) and, again, hired ex-cons. Official law enforcement tried many times to shut it down. In 1842 police arrested him in suspicion of unlawful imprisonment and taking money on false pretenses after he had solved an embezzling case. Vidocq later suspected that it had been a set-up. He was sentenced for five years with a 3,000-franc fine but the Court of Appeals released him. Vidocq is credited with having introduced record-keeping, criminology and ballistics to criminal investigation. He made the first plaster casts of shoe impressions. He created indelible ink and unalterable bond paper with his printing company. His form of anthropometrics is still partially used by French police. He is also credited for philanthropic pursuits – he claimed he never informed on anyone who had stolen for real need.
After Vidocq, the industry was born. Much of what private investigators in the early days was to act as the police in matters that their clients felt the police were not equipped for or willing to do. A larger role for this new private investigative industry to was to act as pseudo law men, particularly when dealing with labor and employee issues. The wealthy found that the need to help control large numbers of workers who had developed new ideas as a result of the French Revolution and the freedom of men did not sit well with the wealth resource owners. Some early private investigators were nothing short of mercenaries and or professional military companies helping private entities with problems that could be solved with force or the show of force, usually in foreign countries.
In the US, the Pinkerton National Detective Agency was a security guard and detective agency, established in 1850 by Allan Pinkerton. Pinkerton had become famous when he foiled a plot to assassinate then President-Elect Abraham Lincoln. Pinkerton's agents performed services which ranged from the equivalent of both a private military contractor to that of security guards. During the height of its existence, the Pinkerton Detective Agency had more agents than the standing army of the United States of America, causing the state of Ohio to outlaw the agency, due to the possibility of its being hired out as a "private army" or militia.
During the labor unrest of the late 19th century, businessmen hired Pinkerton guards to keep strikers and suspected unionists out of their factories. The most notorious example of this was the Homestead Strike of 1892, where Pinkerton agents ended up killing several people by enforcing the strikebreaking measures of Henry Clay Frick, (acting on behalf of Andrew Carnegie, who was abroad). The agency's logo, an eye embellished with the words "We Never Sleep" inspired the term "private eye.
Pinkerton agents were hired to track western outlaws Jesse James, the Reno brothers, and the Wild Bunch including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
It was not until the prosperity of the 1920s that the private investigator became a person accessible to the average American. With the wealth of the 20s and the expanding of the middle class came the need for middle America.
Since then the private detective industry has grown with the changing needs of the public. Social issues like infidelity and unionization have impacted the industry and created new types of work, as has the need for insurance, and with it insurance fraud, criminal defense investigations, the invention of low cost listening devices and more.
PIs in fiction
Perhaps the most famous fictional PI is the Sherlock Holmes character created by Arthur Conan Doyle, who would refer to himself in the jargon of his age as a "private inquiries agent."
Since about the 1940s, PIs have also been frequently found in fiction as a stock character; they are a hero archetype who stumbles into detective stories to solve a mystery case, whether it be a whodunit murder or other crime activity. The PI is usually cool, relaxed and intelligent. A stereotypical look would have him drink whiskey, smoke, dress in a trenchcoat and fedora and be a good marksman.
PIs are also popular in television fiction, including such hit series as Magnum P.I., Tropical Heat, Veronica Mars, Moonlighting, Remington Steele, The Rockford Files, Monk, and Spenser: For Hire; both TV and movie PI fiction often utilize the device of the main character first-person voiceover to make up for the fact that visual fiction is rarely ever shot in the true first-person, as well as to provide exposition about the detective's thoughts. Meanwhile filmmakers like Joel and Ethan Coen (The Big Lebowski), David O. Russell (I ♥ Huckabees), and writers like Jennifer Colt (The Butcher of Beverly Hills), Laura Anne Gilman (Staying Dead) and Jim Butcher (The Dresden Files) have moved the traditional PI protagonist towards new genres.
PIs in reality television
Since 2000, the syndicated television show Cheaters has been on the air. The show focuses on infidelity cases.
Parco PI was a cable reality television show. The show featured Vinny Parco, a private investigator in New York City, New York.
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