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!