What are the roles of a PI?

Private Investigators are not a modern phenomenon, Private Detectives have been in existence since the 17th century, and maybe before. The first documented private detective agency, Le bureau des renseignments (office of intelligence), was founded in France in 1833 by Eugene Francois Vidocq, a former French soldier, criminal and privateer. Vidocq is credited as being the first person to have made plaster casts of shoe impressions and of having introduced record-keeping, criminology and ballistics to criminal investigation.

The modern day private investigator has by necessity evolved into a multi-talented professional who must be thoroughly proficient in a multitude of skill sets that will allow him to diligently conduct any investigation contracted to him. The private investigator can expect to be employed on a variety of tasks which can usually be classified under one of three categories; commercial, industrial and private client assignments. Each category has a multitude of roles that the private investigator can be employed to conduct, and as such he must be conversant in all the relevant laws and legislation pertaining to that particular role, these could include:

a. The Data Protection Act 1998
b. The Misuse of Computers Act
c. The Human Rights Act 1998
d. The Freedom of Information Act 2000
e. The police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984
f. RIPA 2000
g. The SIA 2001

Within the commercial category the investigator could expect to be employed by members of the legal profession, local councils, large financial institutions, Government departments and private companies. Some tasks that the private investigator could expect to carry out within this category include process serving on behalf of solicitors or the courts and appearing as a witness in court itself. An investigator could also be tasked to conduct a trace of a person or conduct a status and credit report which involves preparing a financial status report of a person or company on behalf of a client who wishes to know, prior to going to court, if taking legal action is financially worthwhile.

The Industrial category is as diverse again and includes being instructed to assist clients in the manufacturing, distribution, technological, service and retail industries. This category will test all the skill sets that the investigator has at their disposal. The investigator may be called upon to investigate whether or not an employee is being dishonest and selling client lists to a competitor, whether or not a member of staff is pilfering stock or taking cash from a till to investigating a suspected fraudulent insurance claim. This list is by no means exhaustive.

Private client assignments are many and varied and can surprise even the most experienced investigators. Assignments can include tracing abducted people, lost or stolen pets, to tracing heirs to a fortune left by a deceased relative. Many members of the public going through a traumatic divorce will either personally, or through their solicitor, employ an investigator to investigate for example whether or not the spouse is as destitute as they claim.

Local authorities will on occasion employ the services of a Detective Agency in cases involving anti-social behaviour, deliberate noise pollution, racial discrimination and criminal damage. Investigators have also been called upon to investigate matters which would normally be in the realms of the Police, but because they may involve family or close friends the client chooses not to involve the Police. One of the most satisfying assignments, if a result is obtained, is to gather evidence which can prove the innocence of a party.

In order to be able to conduct any investigation an investigator must have information. The information must be reliable and obtained legally. Most information is in the public domain, but can sometimes be difficult to find, a good investigator will have already researched the best sources of information. The most experienced investigators will over time have acquired a network of contacts, people that they have met at networking events, via professional forums, or clients and friends. These contacts will prove invaluable and must be treated with respect. A contact must never be asked to provide illegally gained information or be put in a position that could embarrass them, their employers or family.

Thorough research of the many mediums available, will stand the investigation in good stead and should lead to a satisfied investigator, and most importantly a satisfied client!

In conclusion, the roles and types of assignment an investigator may be required to conduct are many and varied, some may be considered mundane, but all are of equal import to the client. The Private Investigator must become adept at all the skills required to bring an investigation to a successful conclusion, this can only be achieved by obtaining the correct training, putting that training into practice, asking for advice when it is needed and through that practice gaining experience