By Dave Amis
In part 1, we identified the best way to become a PI if you have few skills—learn Surveillance and OSINT and work fidelity cases! But what if you already have experience in criminal investigations, or that’s where your heart lies?
You already have some investigative tools if you’re a former cop, investigator, military intelligence, or spy. You’re used to hunting the “bad guy.” However, if you don’t have experience in surveillance or OSINT specifically, you’ll still need that. I know cops who tell me they have lots of surveillance experience as a patrol officer. “You mean you watched subjects in your cruiser?” If they answer yes, they aren’t talking about covert surveillance. And covert surveillance is what PIs do. This may sound like a small difference, but it’s not.
If you’re new to all of this and are determined to work in criminal investigations in one way or another, you’ll want to develop all three of the foundational skills for criminal investigations. That’s a lot to bite off, but it’s doable if you take it one step at a time. In an ideal world, all PIs would be competent in these three areas. Because even if you’re not going to do surveillance, you may need to hire someone to do it. So you need to understand it. The same applies to OSINT.
You will also want to inventory your skills based on your work experience—or consider getting more. Several jobs are attractive to PI agencies, such as salesperson, manager, accountant, social media worker, photographer, soldier, and many others. One of the best PIs I ever knew had been a photographer and fast-food competition analyst.
One important reason to understand criminal investigations is so you’ll know how to process evidence if you need to do that. But another reason, and this is very important, is so you don’t screw up the evidence!
Here are some examples of how evidence can be tainted and why you should learn all about criminal investigations before becoming a private investigator:
- Pick up an item used in a crime with your uncovered hand
- Check a Facebook page of a subject with your personal Facebook
- Interview a subject and share details of a crime
- Take a picture of a crime scene and edit it
- Use an unofficial document for reference
- Manipulate a computer that was brought to you by a client
If you’re determined to work in criminal investigations, the main route available to PIs is criminal defense or mitigation. In those fields, it’s possible to work cases that range from theft to sexual assault to murder.
When I first became a PI, I treated my first year as my “training” year. Among other things, I did 25 criminal defense cases to learn the basics. I had an excellent mentor who would take me with her to interviews, attorney meetings, and more. That’s an excellent way to get started. If criminal defense were my goal, I would have stayed with her. She was excellent.
I believe everyone should spend time in criminal investigations, whether as a cop or PI, so they will understand the process no matter what they decide to do. If you don’t understand the rules and laws around evidence, you’ll be at a disadvantage in various cases.
A SURVEILLANCE CASE INVOLVING A VIOLENT DRUG DEALER
In one Houston case, a client asked me to help her get out of a difficult relationship. Her boyfriend was a drug dealer who claimed connections to a cartel (never confirmed). He threatened to kill her if she left him or “ratted him out.”
When I met her, she described the location of his weapons and his drugs. She described his protocols for staying out of jail and the young partner he always had with him. For example, he did his deals by taking the cash but letting the young partner hand off the drugs a block away in a CVS bag. He rented darks sedans anytime he went selling to “look like a cop” and only worked Thursdays and Sundays because he believed all narcotics investigators worked exclusively Friday and Saturday nights (which is not true btw). He also drove 45 mph everywhere he went. I know because I was behind him.
It took many weeks for her to trust me and share these details, but eventually, she let me know where he met his source as well.
I followed him once a day for hours and studied his habits. He had a job as a dishwasher at an Italian restaurant as his cover. This made him look somewhat normal if anyone wanted to watch him or check his source of income.
I checked the location of his source and figured out it was a major supply location way out in the county. I figured out when he went to visit, which was monthly.
Before the next “re-up,” I contacted a task force working in that area via some of my old contacts. I negotiated that my client’s name would not be revealed, and she would never talk to them. Finally, the day came, and I provided INTEL on his route. I let him go as I knew where he was headed, and they would be waiting for him. Busted!
They made the arrest, and he went to jail. My client felt safe. Now he had other problems to deal with.
Becoming a criminal investigator without prior experience is no walk in the park. You will have to travel some distance to acquire the competency you need to be successful. But it is doable. I recommend, however, biting off something smaller and getting started in any way you can. And don’t forget, the process of becoming a PI is just as much fun as being a PI! It’s a buffet of new skills and techniques. Have fun.
Dave Amis is the author of this article. As a Texas Private Investigator, he specializes in major financial crimes, including probate fraud, inheritance fraud, white-collar crime, and executive malfeasance. Previously he was a CEO and a venture capitalist, served as a Sheriff’s Deputy and Police Academy Instructor, worked at several financial institutions including Deutsche Bank, and co-authored 27 CLOSE CALLS, a book on how to be safe from serial sexual predators. He lives in Cedar Park, Texas, where he rescues German Shepherds.
If you are interested in training with STRIDER, please go to StriderPI.com and fill out a contact form or contact the operations desk at (512) 410-9136.
Please note: This article is not legal advice. Consult an attorney before taking any important legal actions. Any case examples used will be based on actual events but with key facts changed to retain case confidentiality.