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Rockford Files in Real Life

I don't know if many of you remember the Rockford Files.  It was one of my favorite private detective shows in the 70's.  He always had outlandish cases, and seemed to almost always be in trouble with someone, but he managed to solve his cases.

One of the things that was used in the show a lot was, whenever Jim Rockford would start working on a case, the bad guys would find him (which in a strange way always made it easier for him to solve his case).

Well, the other day I had a "Rockford Files" moment.  I was searching for a person to serve process on.  I was warned the guy had violent tendencies and had trouble with the law.  Apparently he has at least two women (current or former girlfriends) deathly afraid of him.  Anyways, after I had been by his place twice and was told he would be in a certain area, he found me.  That's right, while I was searching for him, he came and found me.  He asked me who I was, I told him my name.  He then asked if I was "the process server."  I told him I was and asked if he was (the name of the guy I was looking for) and he indicated he was.

He asked me what the papers were about, I told him all I knew was they were a citation (normal for process service) and something about an "OCA" which is what was indicated on the papers.  I showed him the papers (handed them to him and he took them (at which point he was served)) he then asked me to read what was on one of them because he didn't have his reading glasses.  So I read one of them for him.  He then took the papers and left.

Sometimes when you are looking for something or someone, they find you instead of vice-versa.

Stay Safe!

Starting Out as a PI - How to Survive

I recently started helping some out in developing a PI's survival guide for new and upstart PIs.  Some old timers will frown upon my share "trade secrets" but I am of the belief that there is a lot of work out there for private investigators that work hard and continually are trying to improve their trade craft.

The following are a few tid-bits of information I shared:

The first and foremost thing I learned to do is incorporate.  It wasn't that much to file (I don't remember the cost, but it wasn't high) as an LLC and you really don't need a lawyer to do so - pretty simple instructions from the Secretary of State.  You need this protection. I learned this the hard way from my father's business when he was a Hertz agent.  Someone who got in an accident and it was their fault sued my father.  They didn't win the case, but the cost of defending himself took pretty much all he had saved up.

The next thing I recommend (though some PIs do not want to do this) is get certified as a process server and do this before or as they are waiting to become a licensed PI.  There are a lot of similarities and it can get the foot in the door with attorneys.  The process of becoming a licensed PI in Texas can take quite a while.  Through no fault of my own, it took me more than 6 months from when I first applied and I passed the managers test on the first try.  Maybe I will tell that whole story sometime later.

One key issue that hampered me was I did not know what equipment I needed.  Remember, I was starting out as a private investigator and had not done investigations privately, only as a police officer.  I bought a lot more stuff than I needed, and think more than anyone would NEED, but all the cool stuff made me buy too much.

So what equipment do I recommend? The piece of equipment I use the most, and works for me in all sorts of circumstances is a Sony digital recorder I bought at Wal-Mart.  I can put the thing on record and even drop it in a cargo pocket in some pants and it records conversations perfectly.  I paid all of $69 plus tax.  I did add a 2 Gig card.  The model is ICD-PX312.  Did I say I use this ALL the time.  I replaced the batteries after about 8 months, even though the battery indicator showed they were still OK.

But Guess what?  You can buy it even cheaper today.  Here is an example:

You can find one as cheap as $28 bucks now.  

I have more on this, but I hate long posts - stay tuned and stay safe!

Time - Stamping Videos - One More Way

I forgot that I had one piece of equipment that I can "time stamp" videos with.  I had bought this over a year ago.  I normally do not use it, because to me, it is just too time consuming.  However, it is the cheapest way out there to make time-stamped videos from HD camcorders.  You just play the video in the Camcorder displaying the date and time when this device is connected between the camcorder and a computer.

You can record the file in an avi file that will have the time and date stamp.  This is OK for short recordings, for longer ones it still works, but it only works in real time.  So however long the recording is, that is how long it takes (plus set-up time) for you to make the recording.

Here is one such device from Amazon:

It is called Easycap.

I hope this works out for you as it has for me.  And

Stay Safe!

Investigating Theives

Recently I was doing some random checks to see if anyone has been re-posting my information.  I do this from time to time to  thank other blogs for making reference to my articles.

The problem is, I found out that someone was out right stealing from me.  I found that the blog found at had plagiarized an entire post of my blog and gave me absolutely no credit.  The owner of that blog, according to the whois database, David Rietman, is a thief for stealing my material.  I wonder if he will copy this entire post verbatim as well with not citation.

David, you have no listed way of contacting you besides a phone number - I may be calling you shortly.

Please correct the issue(s) with the post.

Who Needs to Know When I am Making a Recording?

Whenever you are making a recording of an individual (this does not include video with no audio in a public place) usually at least one party to the conversation needs to be aware of the recording.  In other words, you cannot put a device to record all phone calls on a line, unless you are always a party to those phone calls.  Also, you cannot "accidentally" leave a recording device in another room and walk out to record what took place in the other room.  Exceptions to this require a judges order.

In other words, you cannot bug anyone's car, apartment, house, office... you name it.

You can, in one party state (meaning one party to the conversation is aware) walk around and record everything without telling anyone.  You can use a hidden camera and record everything that is going on around you (there are some facilities that can outlaw this).

Some states require both parties to be aware they are being recorded. These states are:

New Hampshire

Assume places like Washington D.C. and other US places to be 2 party unless you can find something to clearly state otherwise.

This means in 2 party states you cannot secretly record any conversation or use a hidden camera with audio. You can use a hidden camera without audio in public places.

Whatever you do - Stay safe!

When You are Not Wanted

Sometimes private investigators get called upon to do a "welfare check" on an individual.  The most common is when there is no family close by and there is an elderly family member that no one has heard from for a long time.  There are other variations of these, but the bottom line is the investigator has no more authority to do a check than any other individual.

I was recently asked to do a welfare check on someone, and as soon as I got to the door to ask about the person, I was turned away by someone in the house that appeared to belong inside.  I had a small concern, but not a large one for the welfare of the person I was sent to check on, but not enough that I felt a need to call the police.

My point is that sometimes all an investigator can do is ask.  If they push the issue any more, they can be treading on harassment or similar charges.

I know this isn't the most interesting thing in a case, but it is the kind of day to day thing an investigator has to deal with.

Whatever you do - Stay safe!

The Growing Trend of Unlicensed Private Investigations Work

I have noticed through what I can see in advertising and promises on the internet, that there is a large increase in people and companies doing private investigation work without a license.

Where I see this glaring increase, is in companies that are offering pre-foreclosure "assessments" of properties for banks and lending companies.  Legally, only 2 types of people can do this in Texas and they are both licensed entities.  You have to have a license to be a Real Estate Broker and also a private investigator.  What is being done is considered an investigation under the law.  It is not a "grey area" or "maybe" could be an issue, this is out right illegal activity in the State of Texas.  You can be fined for doing it and you can be fined for hiring an unlicensed person to do it.

The other commonly occurring unlicensed activity is "skip tracing" by companies and people that are not licensed investigators or investigations companies.  Skip tracing is basically finding or locating a person who has "skipped out" on some type of financial obligation.  I have noticed that process servers are advertising that they will do these locates for a fee.  If they are not a licensed investigator, they are doing it illegally.  Process servers are only allowed to "skip trace" someone that they are actually attempting to serve.  They cannot charge for locating someone.  They can only charge for serving that person.

I am not talking about state or governmental agencies that do similar work, they are obviously not required to be an investigations company.

Why am I concerned?  It is hard enough to do business the right way and compete with others who do business the right way.  It is not just illegal for these unlicensed companies to to this service, it is an unfair advantage, by not fulfilling the requirements to become a licensed company.

Whatever you do - don't hire or use these unlicensed companies, and Stay Safe!

So Many Strange Requests

Lately, I have gotten quite a few strange requests for my services.  These requests have ranged from "muscle" to conducing illegal surveillance.

So just in case you didn't know, here are some things I don't do for pay:

1.  Intimidate people.  I will not go to intimidate or threaten anyone in any form or fashion.
2.  Place a GPS on someone's vehicle besides yours.  When I say yours, I mean that the title is in you name. I also need written permission from you before I do that.
3.  I will not place a hidden camera anywhere in your home to catch your other half cheating on you.
4.  I will not put spyware on any phone that is not yours.  Show me the bill first.
5.  I will not break into an office to look for records (I know this is a common TV PI thing, but it is a felony to do so)

This list may have to be repeated and then be added to.  In case you are wondering, yes, I have been asked to do all of this.

Whatever you do - be safe!

Video Date and Time Stamps

I have heard a lot of misunderstood statements about time/date stamps on videos.  The one that makes me scratch my head the most is For Court we must display the time and date in the video. I really do not understand that one.  The reason I say this is that nearly all HD recorders now used by both law enforcement and professional investigators do not put a time/date stamp on the video.  That means for court someone would have to provide a video that was not how it was recorded originally.  No matter how you want to word this - it means you are providing an altered or modified video.  

I have problems with getting altered videos into court.  You are just asking for a good attorney to muddy up the water of your testimony.  Usually to get video into evidence, whoever shot the video will be asked "Is this video the same as the actual scene when you shot it?"  Fair enough, and easy yes.  Then they need to ask "Have you modified, changed, or edited this video in any way?"  If you answer any other way than "yes"  you have just committed perjury if you used one of the common ways to add time/date stamps to the video. The most common is for people use the video out and play the video with the camera showing the time/date stamp and making a DVD on a Pinnacle Dazzle (or other brands that do the same thing) DVD recorder.  That is no less a modified video that if you used a software program to edit the video so it shows the time/date based upon the meta data.

On a HD video the information is all contained in the file's meta data.  This means you can look at the file and see when it was recorded.  It has other information, such as the quality of the recording, etc.  

The point is, you need to save an original recording how is was saved by the camera.  It is not necessary to save SD cards, you just need to save the files in their original form and keep copies in a safe place.  

You need to have that original form available when you go to court.  You can say how you got the time/date stamp onto the video - but never claim that said video is original.

Whatever you do - stay safe!

Investigations Basics - Part 6

A good memory

The third thing you need to have is a good memory.  Now we all are not gifted with having a good memory.  Frankly, mine is not all that good.  So I learned to compensate.  I record phone calls and interviews that are connected to the case.  I also take notes, just in case.  I am constantly using the reminders and calendar in my phone to keep me on schedule.  Use technology to your advantage and realize that being able to repeat or report on the information you obtain is a key element in the investigation’s success.
I also maintain a database of all my cases and any of my work that has every individual I get information on and from.  This can be very important, not only for your current case, but subsequent cases. It can also prevent you from conflict of interest later on down the road.

Take pictures and video, and don’t be shy about it.  Explain to others that you need to document who you have spoken with in the interview.  There are times where subtlety is needed, so use a spy camera for those occasions.  You don't have the mortgage the farm.  You can buy a key-chain camera online at eBay for around 12 dollars that will work just fine.  Have a good memory, but document everything you can with some type of recording.

Sometimes having a good memory means having a big enough memory card.

Stay safe!

Investigator Basics - Part 5

 Effective Communications Skills

As in many walks of life, you must be able to communicate effectively.  You need to be able to do this on the phone, in email, in written reports – almost in any form of communication you can think of.  Your ability to communicate on the phone will likely be what gets you more cases or not. 

It is not just about being able to express yourself either.  You must be a good listener in order to effectively communicate. In order to be good at interviewing people, you must be able to communicate effectively with the person to whom you are questioning. If you don’t have good listening skills, it will impair your real effectiveness as an interviewer.

As a consequence, you will find it very difficult to be a successful criminal defense or corporate investigator if you cannot conduct good interviews. There is nothing more offensive or annoying than someone speaking down to someone or using speech or language that is difficult to comprehend. You must be able to speak to anyone from a young person with a limited education to a professional person, in language that is appropriate and clear.  Always use the most concise word – the word that has the clearest meaning. 

Make sure that when you ask a question, it is not too complicated.  It is better to use several simple questions instead of a long complicated one.  This applies to information that you are giving too.  It is always better to be short and concise instead of wordy and complicated.

Try to keep your ideas and questions about certain issues together.  For instance, when covering the “Where” question: Keep all questions concerning the description of the location together.  Do the same thing when asking about the description of a person.  Keep those types of questions together. It is easier for the other person to keep their train of thought.  It is OK to go back later and ask a question on any topic for the purpose of finding out if they are telling the truth.

Avoid wording your questions so that you are asking about what a person does not know.   Do not ask “You didn’t see the license plate did you?” unless it is a follow up question to something they may have said about the license plate.  Instead ask them to describe what they remember about the vehicle.  You can help the person you are interviewing describe the vehicle by asking questions about the size, color, type, and so on. 

Here are some tips to communicating effectively:

  • ·         Listen, then in your own words repeat what you understand the person is telling you
  • ·         If you are giving any kind of information, ask if the other person understands the directions or information
  • ·         Project positive attitudes towards others and try to foster good human relations
  • ·         Be empathic and express concern for others
  • ·         Manage conversations and effectively draw out information
  • ·         Pay great attention to the other person’s non verbal cues
Whatever you do - Stay safe!

It Seems Someone Finally Got Caught

The headline reads "Beaumont man charged with impersonating private investigator."

I find it interesting that some that portrayed themselves so long as a private investigator was not caught sooner. Remember that not is it only illegal to work as a private investigator without a license, it is illegal to hire a non license PI for private investigations work.

Stay Safe!

Investigator Basics - Part 4

So now we finally get to the part where I discuss the needed qualities of an investigator:

The next few posts will be about attributes and special qualities that will help you as an investigator achieve success.

Today's topic: The Ability to get others to work with you

The first quality I will focus on is the ability to get people to work or co-operate with you.  Why you ask?  Well, first off, it is my blog, and secondly – it is likely one of the most important skills you will need.  It will help you with witnesses, clients, suspects, professionals you need assistance from, and pretty much anyone else you come across in your daily work.

You will make a living or go broke as an investigator with your ability to collect information.  If you can communicate well, you have an upper hand on becoming a great investigator.  That communication can be done in your interviews and in your writing of reports.  Often, you will need to communicate effectively to obtain information from all sorts of sources.

You will need to have the ability to interact effectively with all types of people.  It doesn’t matter if they are day laborers or lawyers, you will need to find a way to communicate effectively with them.  If you are having trouble relating to your clients, or suspects, people in the clerk’s office who are the custodians of public records, and witnesses, you may need to consider looking into another line of work.  If you alienate witnesses, they probably will not give you any information.

You have to be able to understand with whom you are dealing.  There are times a simple question and answer gets you the desired information for your case.  You need to know when to play nice and also when to be more forceful.  There are other times when you just need to lie to get the information you need.  I could have said it nicely that you need to “play a role” or use subterfuge or pretext, but we all know what is really going on. 

When you are working on an investigation, you will make many contacts.  These will be people that are connected to your case in numerous ways whether they are clients, witnesses, or suspects. Sometimes you will simply be dealing with members of the public who can provide information.

How are you going to get the facts and information you need if you cannot obtain co-operation from as many people as possible?  Remember that you are trying to bring your investigation to a successful conclusion. You need to have patience, good manners, diplomacy, and understanding. A suspect or witness who has been brow-beaten, scared, or annoyed by an impatient investigator has no value to you and will not add to the investigation.

Here are a few tips:
·         Be genuinely interested in others and make sure they know this
·         Be able to adapt to different personalities and circumstances
·         Communicate effectively with others
·         Be believable – even when you bluff
·         Motivate other people when needed
·         Understand the emotional strengths and weaknesses of others
·         Be sure to control your own emotions
·         Create friends rather than enemies – make sure people are happy to see you coming

Whatever you do - stay safe!

Investigator Basics - Part 3

Now is the time that I will talk about ethics and honesty.  I always keep my clients up to date on where the investigation is.  I also tell them about the cost effectiveness of this to do in the investigation.  I do not give play-by-play or real time updates on surveillance cases of any type.  Doing so would just be asking for trouble.  I give a thorough report the following day. This is for obvious reasons that the client may want to confront or catch the subject of the investigation “red handed.”

Remember when you are interviewing people, if their lips are moving they are lying.  OK, that is an exaggeration, but I have often found that people tend to tell lies, even when they don’t need to do so.  Do not get angry or frustrated by this, just be aware of it.  Also, do not decide how much information is enough information before you start the investigation.   Let the information and evidence speak for itself.  What may seem to be the opposite of this is – find out what the client is expecting.  Do they expect to see the subject “caught on tape?” Do they expect the subject to confess?   Do they think there will be irrefutable evidence found out?  These are things to be decided between the client and investigator before you have started to conduct the investigation.

One of the things you should always be doing is developing informants and sources of information before you need them.  Never underestimate the power of being a friendly patron and a good tipper at any place in the service industry.  Stop in at bars and restaurants – you don’t have to order expensive meals, just be friendly and leave good tips.  It more than pays off in the long run. People are often happy to give you information when they see you as a “good customer.”  Treat the people you deal with in the public records places with dignity, respect, friendliness, and honesty.  I try to keep the people I deal with in the Clerks’ offices at the courthouse happy to see me coming.  They have often done little things as a favor, because I am a good customer. 

Whatever you do - stay safe!

Investigator Basics - Part 2

So what makes you an investigator?

Remember, the investigator works at the gathering and analysis of information.  The information is in records, statements, and evidence.  Sometimes the evidence can be gathered without surveillance.  Sometimes the records are the evidence.  Sometimes the statements are the evidence.  Sometimes a person won’t freely give you the statement directly, so surveillance or even an undercover operation is needed to collect what you need.

Investigators are professional researchers and analysts that sometimes have to employ all of the following: observation, enquiry, examination, experimentation, and analysis.  It is not always easy to obtain the evidence and information you need to “solve” your case.  The problem for the private investigator, is that (s)he does not have the privileges often afforded to law enforcement, and does not have the authority and resources of the state or federal government behind them.  The private investigator must adhere to ethical behavior and work within the law.  The private investigator does not have any privileges or authority any private citizen does not possess.  The investigator must depend upon his or her own savvy, training, experience, connections, and good old fashioned hard work.

Sometimes asking a question once is not enough.  Try to not be too annoying (unless that is the desired effect) when repeating questions.  Rephrase the questions.  Ask the questions from different perspectives.  Also, never under estimate the “oh I almost forgot to ask…”or the “one more thing” before concluding the interview.  When people think the interview is over, they tend to let their guard down.  The Columbo TV trick can work well when done correctly.  I am not a believer in TV techniques, but they usually got put into a script for a reason.

I am sometimes simple minded.  I like to have the “Who, What, When, Where, Why and How” written at the top of the page of my notebook when I interview.  I tick mark the item covered, so I know what else I need to ask.  Sometimes I will just ask that simple question: How?  Or Why?

Do not be too quick to commit yourself to deciding the guilt or innocence of anyone whom you may question.  Of course, from the old school of investigating “If their lips are moving, they are lying” is almost better to adhere to than believing whatever someone may say.  Remember to balance what they say against the records and the evidence available.

Remember that in the field, your primary purpose is to gather facts. Normally, analysis, evaluation, and judgment are to come later. However, this does not mean you should be naïve about what is going on.  Decide for yourself if “playing dumb” is the best course of action.  I usually tell the person I am interviewing, that I have just been hired and I do not know the details of the case.  This is usually not true, but it gives me the excuse to ask very specific questions or repeat questions to clarify information. 

I have rarely felt like I had gathered all the information needed to decide the truth, unless I obtained a video showing the incident in question.  I do not know if there is any way to determine that you have gathered all the information possible.  I usually tell the client that there is more than can be gathered, but the cost effectiveness begins to drop dramatically, and I leave it up to them to decide if they want me to spend the time and money to continue the investigation.  This of course depends on the seriousness and the type of case being investigated.  You should always be asking yourself if there is anything that you have overlooked that could make a difference in the outcome of the investigation.

Stay with these principles, and you can work your way into becoming an accomplished investigator.  Whatever you do, stay safe!

Investigator Basics

Note:  this is the first part of a multi-part series on private investigations basics.

If you want to be able to gather information, you need to develop some skills in the human interaction department.  To a lot of people, these skills come naturally.  Whether it is because of how they were raised, or because they have a personality that helps them interact with others.  The rest of us have needed to learn some of these skills, to become professional investigators.

I cannot tell you all of the reasons that people like or dislike others.  Nor can I tell you why people trust or fear other people (in each case).  Sometimes it is even difficult to understand why people are attracted to or repelled by others.  There are many college courses and books on these subjects, but it usually boils down to past experiences, yours and theirs.

If you want to become an effective investigator, you must be aware that there are many things in your whole basic make-up that can make an impression upon others – be it good or bad.  This can come down to your choice of shoes, the type of deodorant or cologne/perfume you use, your facial expressions, the kind of body language you display, and of course your voice tone and phrasing. We cannot fail to mention your sex, race, and your upbringing.  These all factor into how people see you.

The basics of investigation pretty much is gathering and analyzing information.   The information you most often get is from others’ statements.  Of course, there is the obvious evidence (like photos and video) but usually most of the evidence you gather will be the statements made by people themselves.  No case can be “solved”, assets recovered, or missing people be located without the investigator successfully gathering information.  There is no one skill that will make you a good investigator, you need to develop many skills, know your strengths and weaknesses, and be aware of how you have been fooled in the past.

Diligence v. Diligence

I know that you can only work with the tools that are available to you.

Think about this for a moment.  As a private investigator – you are given information by a client as a starting point.  If you are like me, there is a about a 30-40% chance that some of that information is not correct.  A name will be spelled incorrectly or it will be the wrong name altogether.  An address given will be incorrect.  Dates, times, and anything involving a number seems to have a higher chance of being incorrect than other basic information.

This is why it is so important to get as much information as possible.  This was the investigator can cross-check the information so as to start the investigation in the right place or with the right person.  It may not be the investigator’s fault that (s)he was given bad information.  The problem is, the client rarely sees it that way.  This is also why written information is so much better to go on than verbal.  When you have a written request – it is obvious what you were asked to do.

Diligence vs. Diligence

Diligence – I have harped on this before.  You need to be at least diligent in all that you do.  I do not mean the legal definition of diligence. You do not want to rely on what some information database gives to you alone.  Remember to actually investigate.  Talk to people. Make phone calls.  Check other sources of records.   Diligence is rarely specifically defined in a legal sense.  When it is, it usually does not require all that much.

Some legal dictionaries say things like: “diligence n. reasonable care or attention to a matter, which is good enough to avoid a claim of negligence, or is a fair attempt (as in due diligence in a process server's attempt to locate someone).” Or something like "due diligence is a measure of prudence, activity, or assiduity, as is properly to be expected from, and ordinarily exercised by, a reasonable and prudent person under the particular circumstances; not measured by any absolute standard but depends on the relative facts of the special case."

Legal diligence basically is “just enough to not get sued” or what is “expected.”  I hope that you do more that what is expected.  Strive for excellence.  That is how I handle all of my cases, from the background check, a process service, or a homicide.   I have to work within the constraints of the client’s budget, but that does not mean I will do a half-a$$ed job.  I may not be able to put in all the hours I would like for a case, but what hours I do put in, they will be productive ones.

I have noticed that it seems I get the job done in less time than a lot of investigators out there.  When you are doing your job in an effective manner, you will do it faster than someone just billing hours.  I am not talking about surveillance, because we all have no control over the subject of the investigation.  We have to wait for him or her to make their move.

You can be diligent, as described in a regular dictionary: “constant in effort to accomplish something; attentive and persistent in doing anything or done or pursued with persevering attention; painstaking: a diligent search of the files.”  That is a good thing.  It is a much better practice than the “legal” definition of diligence.  When in doubt – do your best!

And whatever you so - Stay Safe!

How do You Record Your Interviews?

Investigators almost always try to record the interviews they conduct.  The main reason is for the purpose of accuracy when they have to report their findings.  There are instances when you interview a potential witness, and they change their story in court.  It is awfully nice to have a recorded interview where they state something different, especially if you need to discredit the witness or what they "now" say damages a case.

Every time I conduct an interview, I try to get it recorded.  I have tried out several high-end recorders, only to find out the are "too good."  Too many times when I have used the high end products, they are too sensitive and pick up way too much background noise.  When I say recorders - I am speaking of digital recorders.  I do not use tape any longer - it is just logistically too impractical.  The 4th recorder I decided to try out was basically out of need.  I had sent back another expensive model, and I needed one as a stop-gap measure.   I bought a $59 model from Wal~Mart.

The recorder I got was a Sony ICD-PX312 digital recorder.  It has a removable micro-SD card (which was one of the few requirements I have).  It can record in several formats, and has several quality settings.  I stated off using everything in the middle range.  It it easy to set up and easy to use.  I can turn the recorder on and lock the power button so it continually records conversations.  I put the recorder in my pocket and conduct the interview.  It doesn't matter if it is a shirt or pants pocket - it records the conversation really well.

I would have to give this recorder a 5 out of 5 rating if I had a system.  It is easy to use, easy to set up and always gives me a great recording.  This equipment is standard issue for everyone working for me.

If you use something that works really well, I would like to hear from you.

Don't Forget the Basics

If you are called upon to work any type of homicide investigation, including a suicide, don't forget the basics.  A lot of times law enforcement agencies focus on the "suspect' and the crime and they often forget to do the basics of a homicide investigation.

Homicide 101: You track down the victim's last 24 hours.

Every detective knows this is the basics.  However, I have been called in on more than one occasion where this is not done.  Sometimes it is because the police feel they have a slam dunk case.  Other times they do not see the relevance of doing this basic step in the investigation.

There are a lot of things that may or may not turn up in this process.  However, forgetting or just ignoring this process can leave out a lot of critical information.  This process often leads to more witnesses and more evidence that can make the case for either the state or the defendant.

It seems in today's world with surveillance cameras and other technology, basic investigative work is overlooked again and again.  I know police agencies are strapped budget-wise, but not doing the basics can be an embarrassment later.

Canvassing, interviews, tracking down the last 24 hours are all things you need to do in your investigation.  If you leave any of these out - you may not just have egg on your face - but you just may lose your case.

Whatever you do - Stay safe!

Pitfalls of the Lie Detector Part 4

Pitfall #4  - Attorneys Wanting to Clear Their Clients

I must admit that I never understand it when defense attorneys are so stupid or naïve that they will encourage their clients to submit to a stipulated polygraph exam whose results can be used in court.   There is a good reason that polygraph results are inadmissible - they are no more accurate than flipping a coin (57% according to scientific studies).

The test subject basically is waiving his or her rights to have their attorney physically present when they are being examined.  Remember that a polygraph examination is indeed an interrogation.  I have seen “attorneys present” but they are not even in the same room, as they may “influence” the outcome of the examination.  What attorney in their right mind would have their client give up such a right?

You need to understand that a polygraph examination is not some sort of objective observer, making notations from a scientific device and recording their observations of the device and the subject.  This is how polygraph examinations are sold and marketed.  Yes, an examiner does observe the device’s readings, and does observe your behavior.  However, the test is completely subjective based upon what the examiner decides. The polygraph industry in the United States has done an excellent job of perpetrating the myth that polygraph exams are just a benign scientific pursuit of the truth.  Most people don’t realize that polygraph examiners are much more likely to see guilt where a truly disinterested and objective person might not.

Once again – there really is not a “pass” or “fail” to a polygraph exam. What may happen is that the victim of the scam or in other words, the person being tested “confesses” to some sort of indiscretion.  Once the suspect “fails,” the exam (once again – the subject giving some sort of confession), the examiner can testify that the suspect showed signs of deception.  The examiner can also say that the subject made incriminating statements and that they exhibited body language suggestive of guilt.

Even if the subject “passed” the exam, the examiner can testify that they used some kind of tongue biting techniques or similar counter-measures to trick the polygraph. Because of all of this, polygraph exams are the kiss of death for an innocent suspect, and many who have taken one plead guilty rather than face having the polygraph results used against them.

The bottom line is that polygraph examination results are only an opinion of the examiner, nothing more.  They may even include lines like “The polygraph data was analyzed by computer with an algorithm developed in the Applied Physics Laboratory of Johns Hopkins University.  By computer, the data was evaluated to be truthful (or deceptive depending upon the test). The probability of Mr. Test Subject intended to deceive regarding questions (number of the relevant-issue questions) is measured to be __%.”  Just analyze the statement.  First of all, what does physics have to do with anything concerning lies?  Secondly, it has to based upon an assumption that people react to telling lies by increases in blood pressure, breathing rate and heart rate.  Thirdly, wouldn’t it be a biological or anatomy lab that would come up with said algorithm?  I think it is because when we throw physics together with computer analysis, it sounds so scientific that it has to be scientific!  See – it is just a marketed software program that is used by examiners, so they can claim objectivity.

The thing is that it is never in one’s own best interest to take a polygraph exam.  Even when you get peer pressure, or pressure from “the press” or anyone else, it is not in your best interest to take an exam.  I understand that the myth of the lie detector is completely bought by the American press.  That is why people will ask the dumb question “are you willing to take a lie detector test?”

Too many times, a person will often say that they have discussed their willingness to take a lie detector test with their attorney when the attorney evidently failed to keep them from participating in such foolishness.

I guess a possible exception to being in one’s best interest, is when it is under terms of attorney-client privilege. If the client doesn’t pass, the public will never hear about it, and his lawyer can have him or her be administered a polygraph examination by someone else until he does pass. Then his lawyer can announce to the world that his client has passed a polygraph.  While this is all good for newspapers, it never exonerates the client.

Whatever you do – stay safe!

Pitfalls of the Lie Detector Part 3

False Confessions: they happen.  False confessions have figured in 24 percent of the approximately 289 convictions reversed by DNA evidence.  The question is why? 

If you have never been interrogated, tortured, locked up, or verbally threatened, you may find it hard to believe that anyone would confess to something they have not done. As a matter of fact, most jurors find it hard to believe that people make false confessions.  The average person believes that innocent people do not make false confessions. People will make false confessions. I know this for a fact to be the case.

So what in the name of God is the motivation for making a false confession? Do they want to stop the abuse? Do they want to be seen more favorable by interrogator? Do they think that somehow confessing will lead to their freedom?  Do they just want the interrogation to end? The answer to all of these is yes.

Studies by psychologists on confessions that have been proven false, show that often these “confessions” are done by the following: children, mentally ill, mentally retarded, and suspects who are drunk or high.  What do these all have in common?  They are susceptible to suggestion, eager to please authority figures, disconnected from reality or unable to defer gratification. Many of these types think that they will be jailed as long as they keep up their denials and the will be released if they go along with interrogators.

This does not mean that regular adults of normal intelligence do not confess falsely after being manipulated. The biggest manipulator I know, when it comes to getting confessions, is the polygraph exam (or examiner).  I say manipulation, because the polygraph exam is deceptive by nature. The examiner gets you to relax, then later applies the psychological thumb screws.  A polygraph examination is an interrogation.

Polygraph examinations are known to cause false confessions. Despite the fact that the inaccuracy of the poly graph is well documented, police often rely heavily on the “lie detector.”   What most civilians do not know, is that it is either being used as a short-cut on an investigation, or it is used because the case has stalled or there is a lack of evidence to point to a particular suspect. If an innocent suspect “fails” the polygraph exam, police will use the results to persuade him or her that they must be guilty.   (see Part 2 for how this is usually done)

First of all, there is no such thing as “failing” a polygraph examination.  This is another lie told by examiners or law enforcement in their ploy to get a “confession.”  Most examiners will avoid using this term because it is not “professional” they will say things like “the subject showed signs of deception” and the like. Once again, there is no pass or fail to a polygraph examination.  However, if they get you to confess to something, you have failed yourself in a big way.

What most people who are innocent do not understand, is that a polygraph exam cannot and will never prove you are telling the truth.  You cannot exonerate yourself by taking a polygraph exam.  Remember that in reality, there is no passing or failing a polygraph exam. People get duped into “proving their innocence” with a lie detector test. This technique is nothing more than investigators putting emotional pressure on the person from whom they want to get a confession.  Note that “passing” a polygraph exam will never eliminate you as a suspect.

Remember – whatever you do – Stay Safe!

Pitfalls of the Lie Detector Part 2

Pitfall#2:  Polygraph examinations are based on a lie.  Well, really like a series of lies.

There have been no significant changes in the polygraph exam in  50 years.
One of the big pitfalls of lie detectors is that examinations are totally based upon deception by the examiner.  One thing the examiner will never admit to is that any and all “examinations” are interrogations.  Any interrogation is by nature confrontational and accusatory.  The examiner will not be honest with you about the methods being used on you.  You are being played right from the beginning.  You need to understand that the main objective of the polygraph exam is to extract damaging admissions from you.  If you admit to anything damaging the examiner will automatically deem that the examination was a success, and that you were deceptive.  This is the case whether you were deceptive or not.

In light of the above, if you are ever required to submit to a polygraph test (and hopefully you are not naïve enough to do this voluntarily) never, ever admit to any wrong doings or confess anything to the examiner or based on the examination.  Remember this: anything you say during a polygraph screening interrogation can and will be used against you. But guess what - unlike during regular criminal interrogations, our government denies you the right to have legal counsel present at a polygraph screening interrogation.  Just knowing that should be enough to keep you from ever volunteering for an examination.

Do not let them fool you – they (the examiners) are not that good at judging deception any more than any field investigator with a moderate amount of experience.  In reality, they probably are less reliable. How can I say that? In a test of 1,141subjects given polygraph examinations, less than 60% of these tests resulted in a correct decision rendered… (both) guilty and innocent.

So the facts are that polygraph examinations are just a little better than a 50/50 guess.  That is the scientific fact concerning these examinations.  But let’s look a bit more at some of the deception that goes on in some of these examinations.  In case you were wondering, results for blacks being examined are even worse!

Many (maybe all) examiners will use the polygraph as an interrogation tool. Almost always there is a “follow up interrogation” after the exam.  What they do is they ask subjects to explain why certain questions on the screening test might have disturbed them enough to cause a noticeably different response. This is where the examiner starts bluffing the test subject into giving some sort of damaging confession. In the stressful context of the polygraph examination, many people make the mistake of confessing damaging admissions. The people being examined often hope that after their conscience has been purged, they are thinking the polygraph will pronounce them truthful.  Little do they know that at that point it is too late. The problem is that these admissions and not the polygraph results are what almost always are used as the basis for not being recommended for employment.

All confessions to wrong doing – no matter how insignificant, are considered a “trophy” for the examiner.  They will all say that confession is “proof” for the examination.  So, to repeat myself, never, ever admit to any sort of wrong doing in a polygraph examination. The smallest thing you admit to will be blown out of proportion.  This will have serious adverse career consequences.

Remember, whatever you do, Stay Safe!

The Pitfalls of the Lie Detector Part 1

Before anyone jumps on my case, I know that there is no “lie detector” but only a polygraph.  I understand the basics of how it works and the nature of the questions.  What this post is about is the idea that there are basic pitfalls in putting emphasis on the polygraph.

Pitfall #1:  Using the polygraph for pre-employment screening.  The reason this is a pitfall, is that this is actually the worst possible use of a polygraph.  The National Academy of Science studied the use of polygraph examination to determine if they were effective on screening security risks.  They found of course that they are not.   Specifically, they said “Basic science and polygraph research give reason for concern that polygraph test accuracy may be degraded by countermeasures, particularly when used by major security threats who have a strong incentive and sufficient resources to use them effectively. If these measures are effective, they could seriously undermine any value of polygraph security screening.” The real and important question to ask then is why does the government rely heavily, almost exclusively on the polygraph for security clearance?

What the National Academy of Sciences found was this: “There has been no serious effort in the U.S. government to develop the scientific basis for the psychophysiological detection of deception by any technique, even though criticisms of the scientific grounding of polygraph testing have been raised prominently for decades. Given the heavy reliance of government on the polygraph, especially for screening for espionage and sabotage, the lack of a serious investment in such research is striking.”

Now polygraph practitioners, or “examiners” will staunchly claim the validity and veracity of polygraph examinations.  Of course they do, this is their bread and butter.  Anyone that can be swayed by their arguments in reality is actually just gullible.  The whole essence of the use of polygraphs is the mystique that surrounds them.  Examiners and practitioners keep the way they operate the polygraph a closely held secret – supposedly so that people cannot learn to “beat” the polygraph.  As a matter of fact, if the examiner even merely suspects that the person being examined is using or attempting to use counter-measures – they are automatically assumed to be showing deceptive behavior.

The pre employment screening examination has to make the following assumption: that a person who is deceptive about certain undesirable past acts is at risk for committing different kinds of undesirable acts in the future.  First of all, there is absolutely no empirical scientific evidence that this indeed is true.  Secondly,  the examiner always can be totally subjective in their conclusion that the subject was deceptive.

There is a  simple fact that the “accuracy” of a particular examination depends upon the purpose of the test. This makes it unwise to assume that “accuracy” estimates calculated from data when the polygraph is used for a specific purpose, such as finding a perpetrator of a particular crime, can be in even the remotest way be applied to its use for pre-employment screening.  I put the accuracy in quotes, as whenever an examination takes place, and the examiner tells the subject that (s)he thinks the subject is deceptive on something, and then gets a “confession” the test is considered accurate and a success.  It does not matter if the confession was even true, real, or accurate.

Most of these tests are based on the principle of the “Control Question Test” or CQT. As you may or may not know, for the CQT to be valid, you first have to make two assumptions. If you are seeing the pitfall already, good for you. The first of these two assumptions requires that people who are innocent are more responsive to control questions than they are to relevant questions. The second assumption that is made is that guilty persons will respond more intensely to relevant questions than they do to the control questions. The fact that both of these assumptions are not necessarily true can be easily challenged.

By the time I end this series on lie detector tests, you will probably know more than you ever wanted to know about polygraph tests.

Whatever you do - stay safe!

GPS Tracking - the Pros and Cons

Whenever you are considering using GPS tracking, make sure you understand the local laws. The Supreme Court has ruled that law enforcement needs a warrant to use a GPS tracking device.  While this does not directly

Texas law is clear under penal code chapter 16 that it is illegal to install a tracking device on a car without the owner's permission.  This also applies to private investigators who need written consent of the owner to install the device.

So, in a nutshell, you (or someone you hire) can put a tracker on your own car - but not on anyone else's car.

Pros: It makes it very easy to locate a vehicle 24/7.  Some devices have monthly service charges that can quickly add up to big bucks.

Cons:  Don't become one by breaking the law.  In a more practical sense if you are being legal - you need to be aware of battery life and placement of the device.  It has to be able to access satellites to be effective. Simply sticking it on the bottom of the vehicle with a magnet may not work.  You need to test out the device in various vehicle locations beforehand.  Every tracker is different - make sure you have an idea of what the battery life is likely to be on each setting.

Remember that whatever you do - stay safe!

Just for Fun - What PI's Do

These seem to be popular all over the place right now.  I just thought I would share one of my own.

When Hiring a PI - What Do You Expect?

One of the things that customers seldom understand is that PI's cannot do everything they want. OK, maybe they CAN do it, but they shouldn't do it. If you are considering hiring a private investigator, ask yourself "What do I want out of this".

You need to know what you expect. A good private detective will explain to potential clients what they can and cannot do in a case. The largest complaints against PIs are not about doing inappropriate things, but about not fulfilling expectations.

 The accomplished PI will ask enough questions to know what the client wants and expects, and then explain what the PI can and cannot do. Most people are reasonable. Even emotionally charged clients who have been cheated. If the private investigator takes the time to ask enough questions, and then explain what they can legally do, the clients usually understand what can be accomplished. Often clients expect to get graphic photos or videos of a cheating spouse. Unless the cheating is going on in a parking garage, that is very unlikely.

What can be documented is arrival at the same place and time possible on multiple occasions of two people who have no other reason to be together other than an illicit affair. Most cases like this are circumstantial. Rarely is there photo or video evidence of the dirty act. However, when the cheater is presented with evidence, they often cop to the cheating. I hope this helps -

 Whatever you do, Stay Safe!

Comparing Surveillance Choices

I love the way things have gone - in a high tech way for digital photography.  I have used a Digital Canon EOS with great success as far as long range surveillance photos.  I decided to compare still photos from the Canon and a JVC Everio to see this difference.

Canon EOS 80-300mm Zoom - full zoom

JVC Everio 40X zoom -at 40x

Both shots were taken free hand (no tripod or other assistance).  As you can see, both shots are relatively clear.  I must note that I am glad the JVC has image stabilization, as I was shaking quite a bit at full zoom.  I do not have a very steady hand.

The shortcoming for the JVC is that the battery fife while in use is a little over 2 hours.  Whereas on standby, the Canon is much longer.  However, neither will stay on, all by themselves with no activity for a long time.  The advantage to the Canon, is the extra weight makes it a bit easier to hold steady (this can be compensated with  a camera stabilizer on the JVC is need be).  When I know I will be taking far off shots - I will likely be prepared with a tripod or other stabilization tool.

The JVC fits in the palm of my hand, is lighter - so it will pretty much replace the Canon - as least as of now.  It will be in my "always carry around" arsenal of equipment while I am working.   The still shots have great quality, and the zoom capability is excellent.  I like the built in lens cover too.  I have not tried the low lux feature yet.  A review of that will be coming up shortly.

If you are just starting in the business, I would highly recommend getting the JVC Everio with low lux capability before getting a nice digital SLR.  The size, capability, and price difference is well worth it.

What ever you do - stay safe!