RSS

Posts Tagged ‘private investigators’

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.

 

The Highly Specialized Career of Professional Investigations

Monday, May 2nd, 2016

Professional private investigations is a career that many people have a great deal of fascination about. Television and media have often depicted the private investigator as an individual who is a do-it-all, a James Bond type of figure willing to tackle and somehow successfully accomplish any type of mission, assignment, or adversity presented to the character.

In reality, professional investigators give a great deal of thought to what cases they are willing to accept. Effective and responsible investigators know that if a case is outside their area of expertise, there is a greater probability that the results of the case will not be optimal. If you are looking for an attorney to resolve a child custody matter, would you hire the attorney that specializes in bankruptcy law, immigration law, or criminal law? You will likely prefer to hire the attorney who specializes in family law, and maybe even more precisely, child custody matters.

Professional private investigators like, attorneys, have specialties of their own. When potential clients are considering whether to hire a private investigator, I will often advise them against hiring the do-it-all private investigator. The old saying, ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ certainly applies to investigations. A person who is considering hiring a private investigator should first identify what needs to be resolved or what information is being sought. The potential client can then begin looking for an investigator who specializes in obtaining the desired information or resolving the person’s matter. When contacting the investigator or investigative agency, do not hesitate to ask if they specialize in a certain area. Also, do not hesitate to ask how much experience they have in a certain area.

Advanced Professional Investigations is occasionally asked about companies that offer and provide professional services unrelated to investigations, and simultaneously have an in-house investigator or an investigations division. While it may seem tempting to go with the ‘one stop shop’ provider, the client should give consideration to a couple of important factors. First, is there a potential for the in-house investigator to have a bias, or could there be a perceived bias if the investigative findings are presented in a legal setting? Second, if investigation is one of many other professional services offered by a company, how much dedication/focus is the company giving to the investigations division of the company?

Advanced Professional Investigations, LLC is proud to be a fully independent, dedicated professional private investigations agency. What does this mean to our clients? API is able to maintain a direct, customer-focused line of communication with our clients. API obtains its information and documentation in a non-biased manner. API’s results always withstand the scrutiny of any perceived bias in a legal setting. Because API is dedicated to professional investigations, API’s investigators frequently attend conferences, courses, and training to keep on the forefront of investigations. API maintains the latest video recording equipment, with features that are designed specifically for professional investigators, not the general public. API was founded on, and continues to be focused on providing the highest quality results to our clients.

Do you have an investigative case request and you’re not sure who to turn to? Give API a call. Rest assured that if the case request is outside of our areas of specialty, we will let you know and will go the extra step of finding an investigator with the specialty you need.

Why Should Private Investigators Be Licensed?

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

Over my career, I’ve mentored and helped guide countless numbers of investigators. I am very passionate about the profession, and yes I do call this a profession. I do not want to call this an industry. Why should private investigators be licensed? Quite simply, licensing legitimizes the profession. Licensing gives the public the ability to report investigator misconduct. Currently, there is no structure in place to standardize the profession. Many of us do consider private investigations as a profession. Private investigations is not just a job, a hobby, an interest, or a pastime. It’s a profession. Attorneys are required to be licensed. Private investigators frequently work cases for attorneys. We are often times asked to testify at legal proceedings. How do judges, juries, attorneys, or clients know whether the private investigator is free of criminal records? How does the court know if the investigator testifying in a sensitive, legal case is legitimate?

When I am out on a surveillance, there are two things that I pull out when I am approached by a law enforcement officer: my driver’s license and my PI license. I want to have the police officer know as quickly as possible at I am there for a legitimate purpose. A business card will not help me do that. When I am requesting a record from a court clerk or record custodian, I show my PI license card.
I’m also passionate and dedicated to being a good and upstanding business owner.  I took the slow route of learning the profession from the ground up, over many years of practice, long hours and perseverance before starting my own agency. Since I started my agency, I’ve done everything in a legitimate and legal manner. I’ve maintained an active business registration in good standing since the start of my company in 2006. I know for a fact that some investigators have expired registrations and continue to maintain PI websites and solicit PI work. Legitimizing the profession will help deter this behavior.
There are 44 other states that have mandatory licensing. Many times, a colleague in another state is looking to refer a case to an PI in Colorado. The vast majority of the time, those investigators want a Colorado PI to display proof of being licensed. How will we do that if voluntary licensure is repealed? I have unquestionably received cases as a result of having my voluntary license. Is it because I had a marketing advantage? I don’t believe so. I believe it has everything to do with consumer confidence. My existing clients know the quality of my work, but how is a first time potential client supposed to know whether I am experienced and legitimate? Mentioning a license gives them a much grater degree of assurance of that.
I have heard stories from both clients as well as other investigators of PI’s taking cases for cash, and not providing an invoice of services. Are these investigators reporting all of their income? That is difficult for me to say, but again, legitimizing the profession will help expose those who are involved in this practice and will certainly deter those individuals, or risk jeopardizing their licenses.
I’ve heard stories of investigators attempting to blackmail clients, or in extreme cases the subject of the investigation themselves, by threatening a deliberate breach of confidentiality. Is this behavior being reported? Likely not. Legitimizing the profession will help deter this behavior.

Several years ago, I had a private party call me and ask if I could conduct surveillance on his ex-wife. He stated that they were divorced, but he planned on getting back together with her. He said he was suspicious of his ex-wife’s fidelity, and wanted to determine if she was in a relationship with another man. The private party sounded nervous and tense over the phone, and had no legal purpose for the surveillance request. I had so many red flags, I knew from the beginning of the phone call that I would not accept the case. However, before I let the private party know that, he had mentioned some specific details, such as his name and the town where his ex-wife lived. Less than a week later, I heard the news on television that this person had killed his ex-wife, killed a male friend she was with, and killed himself. I immediately contacted the police in the jurisdiction to inform them of this individual’s phone call to my agency. The police had me fill out a statement. The police statement is not something that can be readily located without knowing specifically where to look. How many cases are out there like this? Did the individual eventually hire a PI to conduct surveillance on his ex-wife? Who knows. The dead don’t talk. Let’s legitimize this profession so these incidents can be more readily reported, and thus located.

The licensing of private investigators is long overdue. I ask, who would you rather use, a licensed attorney, or one who isn’t? Exactly why are barbers and plumbers allowed to be licensed, and yet private investigators have been rejected time after time? Imagine how difficult it would be to find a qualified, educated, professional attorney free of criminal records, without licensing in place. Imagine the fear of not having licensing in place for teachers, where pedophiles and felons could teach children without a system in place to screen these individuals out. Perhaps businesses and the general public would still be able to identify qualified individuals through background checks, but why should that burden be exclusively on business owners and the general public? By the way, those background checks that businesses have to undergo to find qualified candidates free of criminal records – many of those background checks are performed by private investigators. Why should private investigators with felonies and serious misdemeanors be allowed to masquerade themselves alongside law abiding, professional investigators? Let’s legitimize the profession and allow it to move forward. Let’s give consumers the confidence and assurance they need to hire a private investigator in the first place.

For more information on the most recent licensing bill introduced in the Colorado legislature, please visit
http://www.leg.state.co.us/clics/clics2014a/csl.nsf/fsbillcont/A77F6AC902F65D5987257C3000063671?Open&file=133_01.pdf

At Risk Clients and Family Law Investigations

Saturday, February 16th, 2013

As professional private investigators, at times we are called in to family law cases to determine if the client is secure. Divorce is very emotional and therefore can be volatile by nature. Although many are settled quietly and respectfully, some divorces can bring out behaviors that may put a client at risk.

 

Advanced Professional Investigations has received calls from family law attorneys representing clients that, after years of abuse, the clients finally have the courage to leave the relationship and start proceedings for divorce. Unfortunately, in some of the cases, the potential for escalation and struggle for control may be present. Actions such as harassment, physical and electronic stalking through the use of texts, emails and GPS tracking devices, begin to both appear and increase.

 

One particular case stands out: a woman had endured years of physical and emotional abuse. She had several young children. She did not have the courage to leave the marriage, nor the support of others. The fact that her home was in a very remote area also meant that police response usually took over an hour.

 

Her isolation was an effective barrier to seeking help. The final beating she endured left her unable to walk for several weeks. Her husband was arrested, ordered to leave the house and had a protection order put into place against him; but amazingly enough, was still given visitation rights with the children. Harassment began immediately in the form of phone calls and texts – then through the children, and even through the children’s friends. She was devastated, and was convinced that she would not make it to the court hearing without physical harm.

 

Her attorney hired API, explaining he felt security measures would be appropriate and that she was afraid for her life. From an investigator’s perspective, we first needed to assess her home and neighborhood for risk factors, and check her vehicles for GPS tracking devices.

 

By the time we had been brought on the case, her soon-to-be ex-husband had already broken the protection order several times by showing up at the home, so his disregard for authority needed to be taken into consideration. Leaving the residence was not an option for her at the time.

 

In assessing the risk factors of her residence, we determined an alarm system was needed. We also pointed out the highest risk areas of entry to the home and called in a lock smith to change all of the locks and codes to the garage. As we considered her case to be high-risk, we assigned armed security at her residence 24 hours a day and conducted anti stalking surveillance. Our presence made a statement, and proved to be a deterrent; during the time we were there, he showed up twice. Each time, we immediately contacted the police and documented his presence. We then worked with the Victims Advocate Unit in the area and the police to ensure her safety, until she was escorted by API investigators to court.

 

A great deal of detail has been left out in this retelling. This has been the most extreme case we ever had, causing  API’s investigators many restless nights. Unfortunately, although extreme, the situation itself is not uncommon in divorces.

 

API can help in assessing the possible risk factors to your clients. Our family law investigators will provide expertise, documentation and recommendations, helping you to better assess your client’s needs in a possible at-risk case.

Client Confidentiality and Private Investigators

Monday, September 17th, 2012

 

In this article, Advanced Professional Investigations discusses confidentiality and what it means for a client. When hiring an investigative agency, clients should be aware of the agency’s confidentiality practices. A professional investigative agency, with professional investigators on its staff, will know that maintaining the confidentiality of a case is in the client’s best interest, and to preserve the integrity of the case itself.

 

An experienced, ethical investigator/agency knows never to reveal the name of the client unless specifically authorized to do so. The agency should also never reveal the name of the subject of the investigation, unless it is to obtain records on the subject.

 

Though there is no confidentiality clause in the Colorado Private Investigator licensing statute, a professional investigator knows to maintain it and assure it at all cost.

 

API has, on rare occasions, heard of private investigators who attempted to extort money from either the client or from the intended subject of the investigation. Though this is an extreme example and more likely to happen to a private client who has no attorney representation, it is definitely not out of the realm of possibility.

 

Advanced Professional Investigations and its employees understand the importance of maintaining client confidentiality on each and every one of the cases we are entrusted to handle! Contact us today for a free consultation. http://www.advancedprivateeye.com/contact.php

 

NCISS Experience and Colorado Private Investigator Licensing Restored!

Saturday, May 19th, 2012

In April 2012 I attended the NCISS (National Council of Investigative and Security Services) Hit the Hill for the first time in Washington, D.C. In conjunction with Hit the Hill, NCISS held a day of training called the State Association Advisory Board, or SAAB for short. SAAB’s purpose is to create a forum to exchange ideas, information, needs, and concerns relative to state and regional associations. NCISS requested for one of the Colorado private investigator attendees to create a presentation on the licensing effort in Colorado. I volunteered (or was volunteered, rather) to give this presentation to SAAB attendees. It was a privilege for me to be able to play the role of storyteller and to represent Colorado private investigators in recounting road leading to the passage of Colorado’s licensing law.

I honestly expected other NCISS members to be somewhat detached or otherwise unaware of Colorado’s recent efforts. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that not only was the presentation well received, but investigators across the country had been closely following Colorado’s recent legislative efforts including the anti-surveillance bill in 2010 and the licensing effort in 2011. NCISS leaders requested an article version of the presentation, which I submitted for consideration in the upcoming issue of the NCISS Report.

If you are a private investigator or a security professional and have not had the opportunity to attend a Hit the Hill, I highly recommend it. It was a privilege for me to be able to represent the investigative profession in lobbying at the national level. I felt like I was able to fulfill a bucket list item that I didn’t realize was on my bucket list until I took part in it. If you feel like it would be too daunting or intimidating to help investigators lobby on Capitol Hill, I can relate. However, what gave me the confidence to take part in Hit the Hill is the experience that I received from lobbying efforts in Colorado. Three years ago, I had absolutely no experience lobbying or testifying on legislative issues. However, with the assistance of other members of the Professional Private Investigators Association of Colorado, I was able to obtain a crash course in legislative efforts. In short, it’s beneficial to gain experience at the state level, so you can then take that experience to Washington, D.C. From the SAAB presentation, to the lobbying experience, to the camaraderie of nationally recognized investigators and security professionals, to visiting the nation’s memorials, to the space shuttle Discovery flying over D.C. on the day of the NCISS lobbying, it was truly an awesome experience. For more information on NCISS, please visit http://www.nciss.com/

Colorado Private Investigator Licensing has been restored! The Department of Regulatory Agency’s website now has everything private investigators need to apply for a Colorado license. In late March, a PPIAC member noted that Arapahoe Community College was only offering ink fingerprinting, and thus could not submit the prints electronically to the Colorado Bureau of Investigations. Recently, I went to ACC to have my prints taken, and they are now offering electronic fingerprinting which can be submitted directly to CBI. The fingerprinting fee may vary from location to location, but I liked ACC for it’s electronic submission to CBI. Between that and DORA’s application, the licensing process is not very time consuming compared to other license applications for other states. If you plan to have your license before July 1st, make sure you submit your application and fingerprints ASAP. I recommend definitely getting everything submitted by June 1st. It seems like it’s still very early, but there is time needed for the CBI backgrounds and the applications to be processed. Some investigators have already been issued license numbers, so though the licensing program does not become effective until July 1st, DORA has started processing applications! Click here to go to DORA’s website: http://www.dora.state.co.us/private-investigator/index.htm

For Colorado private investigators interested in attending the June PPIAC meeting, Jane Cracraft, a past President of PPIAC is scheduled to give a presentation entitled When Databases Aren’t Enough. Jane’s credentials and accomplishments include being a Certified Criminal Defense Investigator, a Certified Legal Investigator, a part time instructor at CU-Boulder for several years, a contributing author to reference texts published by Lawyers and Judges Publishing Company, a founding member of the Boulder Press Club, and Associate Editor for Professional Investigator Magazine among other accomplishments. If you subscribe to PI Magazine, the June 2012 issue features an article by Jane, and is an indication of the caliber of this investigator Colorado has to offer.

Also in the current issue of PI Magazine is a short article written by PPIAC’s own Jennifer Brown on Improving Witness Appearance. I hope to see you at the next PPIAC meeting! Details are on the PPIAC website at http://ppiac.org/info/june-2012-meeting

GPS Tracking and the Recent Supreme Court Ruling

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

On January 23, 2012, the US Supreme Court issued a ruling in the case of the United States vs. Jones which will likely set the precedence for future legislation of the use of GPS tracking devices. The ruling reversed a prior conviction against Respondent Antoine Jones. In the ruling, the Supreme Court noted the admission of evidence obtained by government agents was obtained without a valid warrant, and thus violated the Fourth Amendment.

This recent ruling raises the question of, “What does this mean for the private sector?” Private investigators, process servers, and private individuals for that matter are unlike law enforcement and government agents that have the ability to obtain warrants, so this ruling doesn’t impact the private sector, right? Actually, this recent ruling begins to lay the foundation for how the use of GPS tracking devices will be allowed for both government and private sectors. The term ‘Big Brother’ from George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is a synonym typically used for the abuse of government power, and particularly when describing the government’s use of surveillance. It is the responsibility of professional investigators to not allow this term to become associated and perpetuated by the media to the use of surveillance in the private sector.

Let’s take a look at a worst case scenario, yet a very typical phone call that a private investigator receives from a private party. If you are an investigator who offers domestic, infidelity, or child custody investigations you have no doubt received this type of call. The potential client, in this case a male, requests to have a GPS tracking device placed on his girlfriend’s vehicle, perhaps because of the suspicion of infidelity. At this point, there should already be red flags, or at the very minimum, questions that should concern you and compel you to find out more. The experienced investigator will likely see the potential pitfalls on the backside of this case. However, at this point I will limit the topic of this article to focus primarily on the use of GPS tracking devices. So the inexperienced investigator accepts the case and proceeds.

The inexperienced investigator subsequently finds out the client’s girlfriend does not reside with the client. She actually resides in a house with a driveway, and she happens to park her vehicle outside in the driveway. The instructions from the client are to keep this assignment completely covert, as he is attempting to determine if his infidelity suspicions on the part of his girlfriend can be confirmed. Also, the client has only authorized a few hours of investigative time, and at this time the client only wishes to document the comings and goings of his girlfriend from the convenience of his home computer. The client has, however, dangled the carrot by indicating there is the potential to authorize surveillance depending on what the GPS tracking documentation reveals.

The inexperienced investigator, eager to please his/her client, proceeds to devise a plan of action. The investigator will wait until late at night and place the GPS tracking device on the underside of the vehicle of the client’s “girlfriend”. (Notice I have now placed the word girlfriend in quotations as the investigator is under the assumption that his client is telling the truth). The investigator successfully places the device on the vehicle by crawling under the vehicle at night without being seen. The investigator has now left himself / herself susceptible to being charged with trespassing as well as tampering. However, at this point in time, the investigator doesn’t have the slightest idea of the consequences that are to come.

The investigator, excited to have completed the assignment within the hours of authority, notifies the client. The client then proceeds to document the whereabouts of the vehicle that the GPS tracking device has been attached to. The client immediately notices the vehicle is spending time at a particular location, in this case a private residence where a male who the client is familiar with is known to reside. The client goes on to make accusations and threats against his “girlfriend” and goes as far as to tell her that he knows where she is going because he had Mr./Ms. Inexperienced Investigator place a GPS tracking device on her vehicle.

The “girlfriend”, extremely emotional and distraught, goes on to file charges against the investigator’s client. The investigator is also ordered to appear in court and is slapped with trespassing, tampering, and harassment/stalking charges. In court proceedings the inexperienced investigator finds out that his/her client and the “girlfriend”, who at this point will be referred to as the subject, are no longer involved in a relationship. The subject only briefly dated the client, never lived together, and in fact broke the relationship off due to control issues the client exhibited. The client went on to continue harassing the subject, compelling her to file a restraining order against him, all prior to the investigator being hired to place the tracking device on the subject’s vehicle.

Regardless of the outcome of the charges brought against the investigator, the PI knows that he/she undoubtedly faces an immediate future of several thousands of dollars in legal fees, not to mention time off work to attend to court matters.

To make matters worse, the client finds out that the GPS tracking device only tracks what it’s been placed on, in this case a car registered to the subject. During court proceedings, the client finds out the subject’s sister had recently moved in with the subject and was borrowing the subject’s vehicle and driving it to the residence of the male the client is familiar with. The client, in his haste and anger, realized he had prematurely jumped to conclusions and assumed the subject was at the male’s residence simply because the vehicle was there.

So can a private investigator, process server, or any private individual use GPS tracking devices for any type of case? There are many uses for GPS tracking devices, and without going into the endless numbers of scenarios for their use, I’ve broken them down into 3 categories, with increasing risk of legal implications. Remember, these categories will describe the uses of GPS tracking devices for the private sector, where there are no warrants issued by a judge.

In the first category of use, all parties, to include the individual(s) whom the vehicle is registered to and driver(s) of the vehicle are aware of and consenting to the use of the GPS tracking device. In essence, it’s a completely overt use of the tracking technology. The most typical examples of this would be in the case of an employer tracking the use of company vehicles used by employees, or a concerned parent tracking a vehicle being used by their teen son/daughter. These drivers would be likely to consent to the use of a GPS tracking device because they are borrowing and operating the vehicle of the owner. Since all parties are aware and consenting of the use of the GPS tracking technology, the chances of any negative legal action taken against the client or the investigator are minimal. However, keep in mind a GPS tracker cannot be continued or discontinued on-demand the way physical surveillance can. A GPS tracking device cannot determine if the individual is proceeding from public property onto private property. Also keep in mind the registrant(s) or driver(s) of the vehicle can potentially retract their consent during the time the GPS tracker is being used.

In the second category of use, all of the registrant(s) are consenting. However one or more drivers of the vehicle are non-consenting to the use of the GPS device. In this category, there is an element of covert tracking. The typical example of this scenario is in the case of a married couple, where one person owns the vehicle and suspects the other of infidelity. The owner of the vehicle might confidently believe they have every right to know the whereabouts of their property without the driver’s consent. However, the driver(s) of the vehicle could potentially claim their privacy was invaded. The investigator must be aware of messy pending divorce situations where one party has moved out of the client’s residence, or where there is a history of domestic violence, restraining orders, harassment/stalking charges, etc. Since the use of the technology is covert, it can also bring into question whether the driver is being tracked on private property, and thus having his/her expectation of privacy violated. For the investigator as well as for the private party, the legal liability for placing and/or using the GPS tracker under this type of category begins to increase.

In the third category of use, and the one with the most pitfalls for any private party involved with the placement of the GPS tracking device, one or more of the registrant(s) is non-consenting to the use of the device. Again, this falls under covert use of the technology. The worst case scenario used earlier in this article is an example of this type of use. It typically involves the boyfriend/girlfriend scenario, but can sometimes involve married parties, where the client’s (or user of the GPS tracker if done without hiring a PI) name is either not on the vehicle registration, or is only one of the names on the registration. Note that in this scenario, I didn’t mention the consent/non-consent of the driver as it becomes irrelevant. The driving, and thus critical factor for this category isn’t the non-consent of the driver(s), it’s the non-consent of the registrant(s). In the rare case that the client/user of the technology IS the driver, there are more effective ways to utilize GPS tracking, such as with a cell phone or other device that can be worn/carried on that person. Also note this category can include the scenario where all of the registrant(s) are non-consenting. A common request that fits this scenario is when an employee wants to have a GPS device placed on the vehicle of a co-worker, or an employer who wants to have the device placed on the personal vehicle of the employee. The use of GPS tracking devices in the tracking of claimants in worker’s compensation cases typically fits in this category. I highly recommend that any investigator who values their license and career not use GPS trackers that fall in this category.

I will likely hear of scenarios that will challenge whether there should be more than three categories, and I certainly welcome them. For example, some investigators have probably already thought, “What about the client who hires the PI to place a GPS tracking device and conduct surveillance on a spouse who rents a car at an airport?” If the investigator did not obtain the consent of the car rental company, this scenario would fall under the last and riskiest category of use. If the investigator was charming enough to convince the rental car company of consent, the use would fall under the second category of use. Taxis, leased vehicles, etc. all fit in one of the 3 categories listed above.

In conclusion, it is the responsibility of the user of the GPS tracking technology, whether a private investigator, process server, or the private party, to know and understand the risks associated with the different uses of GPS trackers. Particularly in states such as Colorado where there are no current state laws regarding the use of this technology, the waters are still murky. The recent Supreme Court ruling clearly indicates government and law enforcement agents can’t carelessly use this technology for any or no reason at all. With GPS tracking use, the old saying, “Err on the side of caution” certainly holds true.

This article was originally written for inclusion in the Professional Private Investigators Association of Colorado’s PPIAC Quarterly Newsletter. For more information, please click on the following link: http://ppiac.org/newsletter

Privacy and the Surveillance Investigator

Monday, September 12th, 2011

You’ve all seen the stories and heard conflicting rulings about the Right to Privacy/Invasion of Privacy. One of the most frequent questions we’re asked about is how private investigators get around the Right to Privacy issue.

The long and short of it is: private investigators don’t, or at least they shouldn’t.

Although private detectives and investigators are often depicted as going in to the grey areas in order to come back with the “money shot,” the fact of the matter is that evidence gathered in an illegal way is dismissed or won’t be allowed to be presented in a legal setting.

Advanced Professional Investigations treats every case as though it were
going to court. It may take a little longer, require more effort and cost a bit
more – but our documentation is not going to compromise your case in court by failing to pass legal scrutiny.

The right to privacy encompasses that which is not determined to be public domain, and as such private investigators and their clients must also be aware of the reasonable expectation of privacy. A person’s home is their domain. The same right that you expect goes for everyone else. For that reason, the ‘invisible’ line is drawn at the threshold of their door. If the subject is involved in activity on the front porch step which benefits the client, private investigators are going to document that (provided there’s not a six-foot privacy fence in the way.) If the subject is inside their home, it’s off limits.

It is far better to wait for a another moment for capturing video surveillance than it is to present documentation gained in a manner that is questionable in the eyes of the law. Advanced Professional Investigations doesn’t take risks with our client’s money on the line.

Client Interviews and PI Equipment

Saturday, March 19th, 2011

The client will most likely feel like they are being interviewed by the private investigator or detective prior to taking on a case. Ethical and smart private investigators will make sure that the case request is genuine and there is a legal purpose for doing the investigation. The client should be prepared prior to contacting the PI by having a court order, a court case number, attorney contact information, and any other information pertinent to the case to demonstrate the legality and legitimacy of the case. The PI must safeguard against the results being misused. Investigative agencies will likely use a contract which will detail the type of case that is being requested, the uses for the investigation results, and a release of liability holding the private investigator harmless if the results are misused.

An important consideration in hiring a private investigator is to ask what equipment the investigator has pertaining to the specific type of case being requested. Investigators who specialize in electronic bug detection should have equipment on hand to discover wire taps and hidden cameras. Surveillance investigators and operatives who specialize in child custody, family law, employee misconduct, infidelity, court order violations, etc. should have video cameras, still shot cameras, and covert/body worn cameras on hand to conduct surveillance.