People often confuse the duties of a New York Private Investigator with that of NYPD officers or police detectives, and mistakenly contact private investigators for assistance in police-related matters. This is further enhanced by the common use of the term “private detective” to refer to private investigators. Although these two occupations have very little in common, they often overlap and private investigators find themselves regularly working cases with the assistance of police officers to achieve common objectives.
Difference between a Police Officer and a Private Investigator
A police officer is part of a government law-enforcement agency, and is charged with protecting a certain town, county, city, or state. A police officer’s primary duties include keeping the peace, enforcing local laws, and making arrests when necessary. By contrast, a private investigator is an individual who works on a private, “freelance” basis for individual clients who hire them to conduct tasks, most commonly, to gather evidence. A private investigator’s primary duties include collecting evidence for court cases, insurance carriers, banks, and individuals.
At times, the evidence gathered assists the police in their effort to directly solve a crime, but most private individuals who hire investigators focus on personal matters, such as finding a missing person, or surveilling a cheating spouse.
In some cases, law enforcement officers do work with a private investigator, forming an organization of government employees who work hand-in-glove with a freelance civilian individual. Each side has a different way of approaching their work, but there does not have to be a clash. These differences can actually work to law enforcement’s advantage because for some things, a private citizen – working as a PI – is not held back by certain “red-tape” the way a government employee may be constrained.
For example, a PI does not have to tell a subject that they have the right to remain silent; whatever a PI hears them say may well be used against them. A private investigator can talk to anyone about pretty much anything as long as they don’t impersonate law enforcement or intrude on private property. Another notable difference is that a PI does not have to follow lines of jurisdiction when conducting investigation, allowing him or her to freely navigate the entire state or states they are licensed in, in order to complete their investigation.
Other rules vary by state, but in most states PIs must be licensed; they must obtain their own permits to carry a firearm if they want one; and they are responsible for knowing what they are and are not allowed to do under the laws of the states where they are working.
So, what are some areas of law enforcement where you may find a private investigator to be useful?
Arson investigation is a highly specialized field. Most of the time, only the largest cities will have anyone assigned full-time to arson. Private arson investigators may well be former firefighters who are well-versed and highly experienced in exactly what to look for, especially those with a degree in fire science. These investigators can be invaluable when it comes to solving and preventing cases of arson.
Civil investigators gather evidence to be used in cases of domestic and personal problems such as family violence, child custody and support disputes, stalking, and abusive or neglectful caregivers. Gathering the facts in these cases can be tedious and time-consuming, and simply hiring a PI may be the best solution instead of tasking a full-time police officer with this work.
Computer forensics investigations is a new and very fast-growing field. Every day, more and more information becomes available via computer and every day the criminals find more ways to get at it. Crimes may include encrypting a computer system until a ransom demand is paid or, of course, outright theft of equipment and embezzlement of funds from bank accounts. You’ll need a highly trained specialist to deal with these crimes if they are hitting your jurisdiction. Some private investigators have degrees in some field of computer science or network security, as well as certifications in computer forensics, and can assist law enforcement in locating the criminals.
Corporate fraud investigators look into the extremely widespread, and potentially devastating, problems of embezzlement, inventory theft, and intellectual property theft by employees working for any business, especially large ones. They will also investigate misconduct such as sabotage and sexual harassment. A corporate investigator will usually have extensive business knowledge or experience, or a business degree.
Government investigators uncover fraud, waste, and abuse of resources at government agencies such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and any other federal entity. There is a tremendous amount of attempted theft by people trying to claim benefits for which they do not qualify, or who are stealing someone else’s benefits. Corruption and dishonest practices are also frequent subjects of investigation, and tax fraud is a specialty in itself. PIs who work with government agencies usually obtain degrees in criminal justice and may be CPAs as well.
Insurance investigators handle all kinds of insurance fraud, whether it involves coverage on automobiles; homes and property; health, life, and disability; including unemployment and workers compensation. Insurance fraudsters like to work in groups and may infest a community, staging auto accidents and other fake injuries and losses. An insurance investigator can often recognize immediately what’s going on and help law enforcement locate and resolve it much more quickly.
Legal investigators specialize in gathering every last detail of evidence in preparation for a court case, as well as locating and filing much of the paperwork for trial itself. These investigators specialize in the legal process and ethics. Some PIs also obtain licenses to serve legal documents, including subpoenas.
Missing persons cases can quickly grow cold, and a PI who can devote their full time and attention to these cases can ease the burden for law enforcement officers who still have to perform their regular duties in addition to sifting through large amounts of evidence for the smallest traces. Missing persons investigators tend to be highly educated with a degree in criminal justice, they will have a very good eye for detail and be very good in social settings as they work to develop sources of information. A great deal of patience and emotional control is also needed in order to deal with distraught clients on a daily basis.
As a law enforcement officer, you may find that the right PI can be a valuable tool to perform certain tasks for you and free up your time for the things that only law enforcement officers can do, such as actually keeping the peace, confronting suspects, and making arrests.
For smaller police departments, hiring private investigators for certain tasks on an as-needed basis can be the ideal solution.