From law enforcement to private investigator – Making the switch

In becoming a private investigator, having a background in law enforcement, although not a prerequisite, certainly can be a big help. However from an operational point of view, what a police background doesn’t prepare you for is the subtle differences in how information and evidence is gathered, that exist between the law enforcement investigator and the PI.

The main difference between the private investigator and the police investigator is that the latter places heavy emphasis on the ‘power of the badge’ i.e. the coercive powers and generally accepted authority that comes with the job. Generally, when involved in a police investigation, once you identify yourself as a police officer most people will answer your questions. They may not tell you the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth but, more often than not, they will talk to you.

A private investigator has no such authority and therefore, in the PI world, you really need to employ a more clandestine approach to information gathering.  In short, you need to ‘play a role’ – discreet elicitation techniques can be the best way to acquire information.

Often, the quickest way to get the door shut in your face is to tell people that you are a PI on a case making enquiries. Alternatively, relying on using the effective cover of being ‘someone else’ other than a PI is generally the most productive method of gathering Intel.  Using cover to ensure greater discretion with the information collection efforts can be essential.

Having said all that, the type of cover you choose to use must be legal. Impersonating a police officer, doctor or a solicitor is a criminal offence in the UK.

Taking this into consideration, making that transition between the ‘power of the badge’ and the skill and guile required to ‘play a role’ is not as easy and straight forward as it may seem.