A few weeks ago on TechAndScience.com, I came across an article titled What’s the Difference Between a PI and a Cop? (As an aside, I still haven’t figured out what the topic has to do with either technology or science.)
As the title indicates, the primary focus of the piece is to describe the differences between a private investigator (PI) and a police officer. To be honest, I am not sure that anyone ever confuses the two. But perhaps people do confuse the two more than I imagine. The article also spends some time discussing the “benefits” of having had a career in law enforcement before becoming a private investigator.
Fair enough. It’s hard to refute that previous law enforcement experience can be helpful to a PI, although it’s not a requirement in any jurisdiction, and in some cases it can be a hindrance (more on that later).
Anyone who is curious can easily determine, upon closer inspection, that the firm behind the website that published the article has posted a video that suggests that because they are former FBI agents, they have the “education, expertise and experience” to take “public database information” and develop it into an “in-depth background investigation” more effectively than other private investigators. Really?
This assertion really struck a negative chord with me, and I am certain that I am not the only one who feels this way.
I get it. You’ve got to sell what you have, but the fact that you carried a badge and a gun does not make you more effective or qualified—or necessarily afford you superior training and skills—to handle matters in the private sector. Period.
In my short career, I’ve seen my share of both good and bad investigators, with and without law enforcement experience. You can ask any other private investigator and they will tell you the same thing.
The article details several reasons why it is beneficial to have a career in law enforcement before becoming a PI, including the following:
“Friends and connections in the local law enforcement agency”
There is vast illegal/unethical line here. Just ask Anthony Pellicano, a former private investigator, who is sitting in jail, in part, for having “rogue police officers” search databases for personal information. Or former police officer Chris Butler, who hired attractive women to lure husbands into cheating and then used his buddies in law enforcement to set up the husbands with drinking and driving charges (he’s in jail too).
Frankly, I can’t think of one investigative situation I have experienced in my career in which a connection to a local law enforcement agency would have helped me out. I am not diminishing the importance of what local or federal law enforcement personnel do, or the information they have access to, but in the cases I have been involved with, that “connection” has never been necessary.
The fact of the matter is that even if local law enforcement officers did give me non-public information, it would be inadmissible in any court proceeding, and even a whiff of any unscrupulous behavior on a PI’s part might undermine a client’s best interest.
“Knowledge of good detective techniques and investigation procedures”
It’s true that years of practice as a police officer improve techniques used in interviewing, investigation and information gathering. But the game is completely different in the private sector.
Private investigators need to get information in a roundabout way—not by using the authority of an office (or uniform). PIs typically do not have access to the National Crime Information Center’s national criminal record database or the FBI database.
Without a badge, access to classified, nonpublic information or a warrant, you quickly learn that LexisNexis, a library card and a roll of quarters for the copy machine at the local court are as important as anything else.
“Access to resources normal individuals may not know about”
This one is my favorite. By “normal individuals,” are they referring to private investigators with no law enforcement experience? And exactly what “resources” are they referring to?
I know that some investigators love touting their “secret sources,” but if it’s something that “normal individuals” don’t know about, it’s either 1) illegal or 2) a figment of someone’s imagination.
Your Experience Counts
Sure, if you are working in the field of bail enforcement or security (e.g., as a guard) or on any type of case involving child abduction, murder, violent crime, or countless other cases, your law enforcement experience will absolutely help you. But how often do former law enforcement officers conduct background investigations through public sources, due diligence investigations, work for the defense in a white collar criminal defense case, conduct asset investigations, or spend hours on IRB or TLO trying to find someone?
This Business Is About Information, Not Credentials
This business is about obtaining information, legally and ethically, to help your clients. Period.
Having a badge, unfortunately, does not change that equation. (There are, however, some investigators who like to flash their old badges, but leaving anyone with the mistaken impression that you are law enforcement is illegal.)
If you don’t believe me, just run down the roster of some of the best and biggest investigative firms in the world, such as Kroll, K2 Intelligence, Control Risks, Mintz Group and Guidepost Solutions, and you will find that they were founded and are run by attorneys, federal prosecutors, district attorneys, journalists and investigators who have spent their whole lives in the private sector—without any law enforcement experience.
I didn’t write this to pick a fight.
And this is not a chest-thumping exercise either.
In my opinion, there is no correlation between law enforcement experience and success as a private investigator, despite what many people assert.
So I have laid it out there…and now it’s time to hear what you think.
Note: This may shock you, but I have no law enforcement experience.