How Do Private Investigators Work: A Guide About Detectives

The role of a private investigator may seem superficially obvious. You’ve more than likely seen them in your favourite works of fiction, such as movies or books. Wearing their stereotypical trench coat and hat, they are thought to solve crimes with ease. However, the job of a private investigator is much more than that.

Despite the swagger, these individuals conduct their own investigations in a realistic manner. That is why it is important to discuss how they differentiate from their fictional counterparts. Here is a guide about how do private investigators work:

What Does a Private Investigator Do?

The perception of a private investigator solving crime, à la Sherlock Holmes, may be an exciting prospect. Realistically, it isn’t as high-octane as most would believe. Some of the main duties of a private investigator include looking for missing persons, or conducting surveillance.

Clients will approach a private investigator for various reasons. Depending on the case itself, these reasons can either be denied or pursued. Most of the time, however, a private investigator will perform the aforementioned obligations. Although no two days are alike, the role remains somewhat rudimentary.

Investigative Techniques

A big part of how private investigators work comes down to their different investigative techniques. Even though the gear won’t be as powerful as typical law enforcement agents, it is still useful for the job. Private investigators will employ the use of several devices and techniques, in order to achieve their end goals. In order to collect evidence, for example, video and audio surveillance will be used.

This can come in the form of recording devices, or via GPS. When trying to conduct surveillance, private investigators will use personal observations from various distances. These techniques can be highly effective, if used during a specific time of the day.

How Private Investigators Access Information

A private investigator’s efficiency in the field goes beyond their basic tools. Sometimes, they will need to dig for extra data concerning a subject. As such, public databases will be accessed, to find out employee information or addresses. Or, public libraries can be used to gain access to older information on crimes, for example.

Background searches also require the use of various records. A client may ask the private investigator to look into an ex-partner. If this happens, divorce records may be used to better the overall investigation. Contextual inquiries generally necessitate the usage of huge amounts of information.

Legal Involvement

Despite it appearing that private investigators can take the law into their own hands, it isn’t black-and-white. Most legal experts acknowledge that private investigators can’t conduct behaviours unique to law enforcement, such as arrests. This varies from region to region, and can impact their role as a result.

Moreover, courts may call upon a private investigator to testify as part of the proceedings. When their evidence is presented, they may be asked various questions by the plaintiff or defense. It is the job of the private investigator to, therefore, accurately describe their findings.

Private Investigator Training

Credentials are extremely important, even in the case of private investigators. To become one, an individual will generally have to go through some sort of apprenticeship. They will be mentored accordingly, by someone in a senior position within the field. After a few months of training, licensing will be provided.

Undercover Operations

Privacy is the name of the game, as it pertains to the overall duties and responsibilities. When asked to operate in a more discreet manner, private investigators will go undercover. These can be on a case-by-case basis, but are usually reserved for workplace investigations.

For instance, if an employee brings up sexual harassment allegations, surveillance techniques will be used. Interviewing various members at separate times will also be employed. This may seem unethical at face value. However, as long as they work under the law, they are allowed to do the job as they see fit.


The use of wiretapping is infamous, especially in fictional works depicting private investigators. In the real world, their usage is generally considered to be illegal. If a warrant, however, is obtained, their usage may be allowed. With so many other surveillance techniques at their disposal, a wiretap is usually not required.

Private Investigator Protocols

Many law enforcement agencies require a protocol to be followed, depending on the agency. Since they act alone, a private investigator has a certain uniqueness to their methods. No two individuals will be alike, due to their own mandates on how to operate. As such, the tools and techniques used are flexible, depending on the client needs.

Once an investigation is underway, a private investigator will work within their means to accomplish a goal. By liaising with various parties, and using several reconnaissance techniques, their lives can be quite exciting. Just don’t expect them to be fighting crime like in the movies. Their job is to help all of their clients, through the available means at their disposal!

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