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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 na├»ve 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.