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Archive for November, 2016

Private Investigator Rates in Colorado

Saturday, November 26th, 2016

Having worked full time as a Colorado private investigator for nearly 15 years, and for over 10 years as a business owner, I’ve been able to experience the ebbs and flows – the ups and downs of the profession. Over those 15 years, I’ve  had the opportunity to network with hundreds of practicing private investigators, both full-timers as well as part-timers, and I’ve also guided aspiring private investigators who were looking at gaining entry into the profession. Those hundreds of PI’s that I’ve met have come from many walks of life. Some had prior law enforcement or military experience. Others came into private investigations with criminal justice, investigative journalism, or even law degrees under their belts. Still others started out by taking an online private investigations course, or perhaps attended one in person. Others were introduced into private investigations having had no previous exposure to any type of investigations.

With such varying levels of experience, credentials, certifications, licenses, etc. how do private investigator business owners begin to set a fee structure when they start their own companies? This is a critical question that each new business owner should consider carefully at the time that the business is started. Most private investigators have an hourly rate with expenses charged separately, others might charge a flat fee hourly rate to include expenses incurred such as mileage and travel time, and still others charge a flat fee daily rate. Some private investigators even charge on a contingency or percentage basis. However, many states have restrictions or complete bans on this type of fee structure for private investigators. To complicate the matter even further, some investigators have a lower fee for cases worked as a contract investigator versus their regular fee for cases where they are the originating investigator.

Many new investigator businesses will simply attempt to research what the going rate is for the state or region of operation and then set their rates accordingly. However, consider this: over the years I have heard of Colorado private investigators charging rates as low as $40 per hour as the originating investigator, to rates as high as $300 per hour. Wow. $40-$300 per hour! That seems like quite a disparity to me. Think about it: all other expenses and factors being equal, the $40 per hour investigator has to work 7.5 hours just to match the 1 hour worked by the $300 per hour investigator! The obvious explanation to this is the $40 per hour investigator must be an inexperienced generalist while the $300 per hour investigator must be an experienced specialist with every credential imaginable.  However, there are other variables which could factor into those rates. The $40 per hour investigator could be a part time investigator, perhaps a retired individual who receives a pension or other forms of secondary income. Those individuals perhaps view private investigations as more of a hobby or pastime.  The $300 per hour investigator perhaps has a brick and mortar office in a prime location complete with a receptionist, office manager, administrative assistant, field employees, etc. The $300 per hour investigator could also be a smaller agency that contracts out work to $100 per hour investigators and as a result still generating a good profit while having subcontractors do the investigations.

I once experienced a scenario which I had not previously been aware of or even considered. I received a phone call from a large corporation which had recently started hiring in-house investigators. The potential client wanted to know what my company’s rates were for initiating surveillance on a subject in Glenwood Springs, CO. The caller explained to me that the surveillance would span from a specific pickup point until the subject returned to their residence, so in the potential client’s words, the surveillance would only be one day. I informed the caller of my hourly rates as well as mileage and travel rates, and explained that my office was located in Castle Rock, Colorado – approximately 3.5 hours away from Glenwood Springs. To help explain the minimum travel and mileage expenses, I informed the caller that the only investigator available to cover the surveillance case would have to be dispatched from Castle Rock. The potential client stated that their in-house investigator is paid a $125 per day flat rate. After a couple of seconds of silence on the phone line, I realized the potential client wanted me to make an attempt to match that rate. I politely explained to the caller that I could not lower my rates, and perhaps the corporation should continue using their in-house investigator. Her reply was something to the effect of, “But I don’t want to use my in-house investigator.” She went on to explain that they were not pleased with the quality of investigations they were getting from the in-house investigator. I spent another few minutes on the phone with the caller, but I quickly realized she had been accustomed into believing this flat fee rate was the average going rate for investigations.

I ended the phone call unclear if the in-house investigator was an employee or if the investigator was a vendor who did all their work for this corporation. Perhaps I could have clarified the caller’s definition of ‘in-house’ investigator, and then maybe I could have explained the various expenses, taxes, operating costs, insurance, etc. that I as a business owner must incur versus an employee investigator. Perhaps I could have explained how our company specializes in surveillance, that each surveillance investigator has years of experience, and how each investigator is individually licensed in Colorado. However, in my mind I was convinced we would not come to an agreement on a rate.

So once again, what should an investigator charge? Based on all the variables, this is a difficult question to answer. Instead, I ask private investigators to take a look at other businesses and professions. For example, attorneys, like private investigators, range in size as small as sole proprietors to as large as national or even international corporations with employees numbering in the hundreds or even thousands. Some attorneys have a home office, while some have dedicated office buildings. Practically all have some form of website or other forms of internet presence. Many have memberships in professional organizations and associations.

Private investigators, like attorneys, might have to purchase similar attire as attorneys for marketing, face-to-face client relations, and testifying / providing attorney support at hearings and trials. Unlike attorneys, private investigators aren’t required to have a 4 year or higher college degree, and in many states aren’t required to pass an exam or even be licensed. So perhaps the average rate for private investigators shouldn’t be the same as the average rate for attorneys in a given state or region.

To the private investigators at the low end of the spectrum, such as in the $40 per hour range, taking a look at other businesses and their hourly charges may prove to be an indicator of how the investigator is perceived to clients as well as colleagues, inadvertently or otherwise. Plumbers who are licensed charge $45 – $150/hr. Car mechanics charge $80 – $100/hr. Are licensed and professional minded private investigators not, at the bear minimum, as valuable in terms of the services provided as car mechanics or plumbers? Those are the questions that each investigator business owner must answer when establishing their rates.

Legal Basis in Family Law Investigations

Friday, November 11th, 2016

Private investigators oftentimes have the stigma of taking on any case for any reason. Advanced Professional Investigations has worked hard to change that perception through educating the public and clients on what a professional investigator does and how we think. We do, however, still get the calls from individuals that want their husband or wife followed to see if they are cheating or find out if we can bug their cell phone or computer. In our office, the protocol is to determine if the case has a legal basis or is purely need to know. As Colorado is a no-fault state for divorce, the only time we accept a domestic case is if there is an attorney involved and if the attorney feels our help is not only warranted, but also beneficial to their legal case. Locating assets, determining employment of a parent that has stopped paying child support, conducting background checks on questionable individuals that spend time with the children, and obtaining evidence of drug or alcohol use during visitation are just a few of the examples where the case may have a legal basis in order for us to accept a case. Our findings are then turned over to the family law attorney to ensure the information will be utilized in the proper manner. As family law cases/domestic cases can be extremely volatile with emotions running high, it is important to us that our findings will only be used in a legal setting.

Another reason we typically don’t accept family law cases without legal representation is that family law cases are often very emotionally-charged and volatile. Attorneys tell us these cases require a lot of patience and guidance. When taking on family law cases, our policy is to ask for a conference call so we can determine what information the attorney is looking for during the course of the investigation. Many times the client has ideas on what they would like done based on what they have seen on TV.  These requests may be above the legal scope of what we can do as investigators and may actually hurt the case. Communicating with the attorney helps keep the case on the right track. On the investigative end, it ensures the case is worked with results that will support the case in a legal setting, instead of fueling emotionally-based requests.

 

Documenting the Dynamics of Parenting Time

Friday, November 4th, 2016

divorce-pic

Like adults, children can have biases particularly in regards to their parents. Those biases are affected even more so in contentious divorces where struggles for parenting time become an emotional tug of war.

Emotions on the part of the client makes a family law attorney’s job even more difficult in determining whether concerns of the child regarding the other parent are being accurately described. Concerns for safety and the overall well-being of the children are sometimes in question and need to be taken seriously.

In addition to being helpful in determining whether drug or alcohol use is a factor during parenting time, having an accurate picture of the dynamics of the relationship can influence modification of that time. Although there may not be evidence of alcohol or drug use during visitation time, is there question of such in the hours before the child exchange? We at Advanced Professional Investigations have had cases in which we’ve documented subjects that have consumed alcohol immediately prior to a child exchange. Who is spending time with the children? Are background checks on individuals spending time with the children warranted? Unfortunately, we have had cases where new love interests or babysitters have had questionable backgrounds. Are the children being left unattended? Video documentation via surveillance can be crucial to a child custody case. Are the children in a healthy, stable, and safe environment is the ultimate question in parenting time or custody cases. There may also be a question of “quality time”. Is the other parent spending their time with the child or children or do they simply go about their daily business and leave the children in the care of others?

What are the children’s behaviors while they are spending time with that parent? Are they happy and seem content, or do they appear hesitant and fearful during their visitation?

Besides parenting time, questionable employment that would be detrimental to the emotional or physical well-being of the children may need to be answered. Is the subject working at a bar and taking the children with them during their shift for example?

Surveillance can be used to document questionable behaviors in an objective manner, providing the family law attorney with necessary information to proceed in the best interest of their client, or at times put the parent at easy knowing their child or children are well looked after while in the other’s care.

How Surveillance Can Be Beneficial

Tuesday, November 1st, 2016

They aren’t situations in which we prefer to operate all the time, but there are times in life where a private investigator may be necessary. In particular, many unfortunate circumstances may require the hiring of a professional to conduct surveillance services.

At Advanced Professional Investigations, our professional private investigators will work with you to quickly and painlessly resolve your issue. We know that these situations often involve discretion and privacy, and we’re experienced at providing these and keeping you comfortable.

What are some reasons you might need our surveillance services?

Marital Disputes

One of the most common uses of surveillance is during marital disputes, an often-ugly process that can begin when someone suspects that a partner is being unfaithful but has no way to prove this. Surveillance can often be the only way to definitely prove lack of faith, which can actually be a very important factor in divorce cases.

Additionally, surveillance can be used to assist this process when children are involved. Things like quality of parental care, time constraints and potential negative issues like abuse, neglect or drug problems are all areas proper surveillance can help weed out and bring to the forefront.

Workplace Issues

Billions of dollars’ worth of products are stolen from workplaces every year by dishonest employees and scammers, but proper surveillance can put a stop to this in a hurry. A surveillance specialist like Advanced Professional Investigations can also assist with other forms of employee misconduct, including drug or alcohol use and misuse of equipment.

Worker’s Compensation and Insurance Fraud

It’s common for people to fake or exaggerate injuries or other conditions that might allow them to collect worker’s compensation or other forms of insurance without actually doing any work (or without actually getting hurt). Other forms of insurance fraud that are common include personal injury and disability claims, both also areas which can benefit from proper surveillance.

Stalking Concerns

Stalking is more common than you might believe, whether it’s in person, online or otherwise. This can include frequent trespassing on private property as well, or in some cases people who have already been issued a restraining order and may not be complying. Each of these areas can be addressed in part through surveillance, which can uncover the evidence needed to take action.

Advanced Professional Investigations is a premier private detective service in the Denver area, with years of experience conducting surveillance and other private investigative practices. Our professionals are standing by to help with all your needs.