Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

A defense attorney & PI who also happen to be writers

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Surveillance Rule Number 1: Blend In

Posted by Writing PIs on May 15, 2012

Your Writing PIs

Last month we gave several presentations at the Pike Peak Writers Conference, a fun, informative annual conference held in beautiful Colorado Springs, Colorado. We taught two workshops for writers: “Surveillance 101″ and “Missing Persons 101.”

Today we’ll share a few of our “Surveillance 101″ slides on the topic of “blending in” while on surveillance:

Rule Number One: Blend In!

Types of clothing to wear on surveillance, based on locale, weather, length of surveillance

Choose an Appropriate Surveillance Vehicle for the Locale

Tips for Picking Effective Surveillance Vehicles

More Tips for Effective Surveillance Vehicles

We loved The Rockford Files, but this is hardly an effective surveillance vehicle!

Have a great day, Writing PIs

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Get a Bad Online Review? Three Tips to Minimize It on the Internet

Posted by Writing PIs on April 12, 2012

The Internet is full of reviews, from the best and worst cars to lawyers to books.  And just as the Internet is full of reviews, it’s also full of all kinds of people and varying tastes.  Some people like Chevys, some like Hondas.  Some people dig romance novels, some only read horror tales.  With all these varying tastes and styles, it’s inevitable products and people get varying reviews, too.

Sometimes even bad reviews.

Tips to Make Search Engines Not So Interested in That Bad Review

Rather than focus on the bad review, you can take steps to make it less interesting to the Internet.  Less interesting to the Internet = lower rankings in browser searches.  We’re talking some simple Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tips here:

  • Don’t click on that bad review link.  I know, it’s tough.  You want to.  You’ve seen the “1” ranking and the first few words of the review and you want to know more what that idiot said.  But if you click on that link and open the review, guess what? You’re sending a signal to search engines that people find that review interesting.  You don’t want to do that.
  • Oops, I clicked that bad review link!  Okay, click the back button and navigate to one of your stellar reviews.  One of those 5-starred ones where somebody gushed about your product/service/book. Then close your browser.  This sends a signal to search engines that the second review, the better one, had more impact that that almost-insignificant bad one.
  • Don’t search that bad review again.  Or search for keywords within that review. If you do the latter, you’re again signaling search engines that those nasty keywords are important to readers.

Steps to Boost Postive Reviews of Your Product/Service/Book on the Internet

These actions can help “push down” any negative reviews:

  • Set up different profiles (from a blog to Twitter) and fill them with unique content.
  • Ask satisfied clients (or book fans) to post favorable reviews of your product/service/book.
  • Do not post a rebuttal to a bad review.  I know, it’s tempting.  But don’t.  This adds relevant content to the bad review, which signals search engines that people find this review interesting, which boosts the ranking of that bad review…you’ve just been your worst enemy.

May the Force of the Internet Be with You, Writing PIs

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Private Eye Stories That Get It Right

Posted by Writing PIs on March 28, 2012

Today we’re looking at a few writers who nail private investigations in their stories.

Steve Hamilton, Misery Bay. In this short paragraph, he captures how it sometimes feels on stationary surveillances when you’ve been sitting and staring for a long, long time:

Another hour passed. The sun tried to come out for a few seconds, but the clouds reassembled and then it was a normal Michigan sky again. Cars went by, one by one, kicking up slush. I stayed where I was, feeling like I was slipping into some sort of trance, but always with one eye on the side-view mirror.

George Pelecanos, The Cut. Sometimes we think that if we say we’re private investigators, the person will refuse to talk to us, so we’ll simply say we’re investigators or legal investigators…omitting the word “private” can keep the conversation warm.  However, we’re careful not to lie about our work, and if asked who we’re working for, we’re upfront that we’re working on behalf of the defense.

In the below dialogue, the PI, Lucas, is looking for potential interviews on a case. Lucas speaks first.

“Look, I don’t mean to bother you, but I’m looking into a theft on this block.”

“You police?”

“I’m an investigator,” said Lucas. It didn’t answer the question exactly, and it wasn’t a lie.

Don WinslowThe Gentlemen’s Hour. Winslow is a former private investigator , so no surprise he nails the PI profession in his writing. The below excerpt, where the PI brainstorms case strategy, legal aspects and the legal players with the attorney, hit home with us. Often we work closely with defense attorneys on case/investigative strategies and issues — this type of “brainstorming” relationship is due to our backgrounds (before returning to the practice of law, one of us was a former criminal defense attorney) and also our established attorney-PI relationships that have been built over time where both sides have proven track records and mutual respect.

In this passage, the attorney-client, Petra, is speaking to the PI, Boone. Corey is the defendant whose family has retained Petra. The first line is Petra’s.

“I’m not sure it’s a viable defense anyway,” she says. “But it’s worth looking into. Where else do you want to take it?”

Boone starts off with where he can’t take it. He can’t talk to Trevor Bodin or the Knowles brothers because their lawyers know that their interests conflict with Corey’s and won’t let the interviews happen. Those kids, smarter than Corey, started making their deals right in the police interview rooms. The best they can hope for is that Alan takes a chunk or two off the rest of the crew’s credibility during cross-exam, but that’s about it. So that’s no good. But he can run down more info on the Rockpile Crew and the “gang” issue, find out what they were all about.

Boone sums all that up for Petra, and then says, “If Corey takes that attitude into a trial, Mary Lou will ride it to a max sentence.”

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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Did Google Maps Steer You Wrong? Try a Crowdsourced Map!

Posted by Writing PIs on March 26, 2012

Have you ever followed instructions from Google Maps or another electronic map service that tells you to turn right on the next street…but there’s no street to turn down?

Some map services, like Waze, have incorporated people’s feedback (“Hey, just wanted you to know there’s no road where the map told me to turn”) to correct and add mapping in their utilities. The result? Crowdsourced maps! A huge benefit of these services is that these traffic and mapping services are more consistently reflecting the real-time landscape.

Check out these crowd-sourced mapping services, all of which are free:

Waze: This community-based map and traffic service began as Freemap in Tel Aviv in 2006. It now claims more than 14 million drivers worldwide. Waze claims that 45,000 of its users are dedicated map editors and 5,000 are regional managers who ensure maps’ accuracy. Download to your iPhone, Android, Blackberry or Nokia. Site shows latest user reports that show traffic jams, accidents, even where law enforcement has set up speed traps.

OpenStreetMap: This service more closely follows the Wikipedia model, and in fact calls itself the “free Wiki world map.” Anyone can use the maps, and anyone can create and edit the maps.

INRIX: Another service whose ad claims it puts “the power of the world’s largest driving community into the palm of your hand with real-time alerts, traffic forecasting, information about accidents, police and other events.”

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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iPhone Apps for Private Investigators

Posted by Writing PIs on January 4, 2012

We finally ditched our dumb phones in 2011 and got smart ones, as in iPhones. Now that we have ‘em, we can’t believe why we waited so long. Besides being able to check directions, look up phone numbers, research databases and more on the fly, we’ve also become enamoured of a few apps.

For the iPhone

Flashlight. There’s a number of flashlight apps. The one we use is simply called “Flashlight.” Big off/on button that fills the screen, easy to switch it on. We’ve carried flashlights with us since we opened our investigation agency yea many years ago, but we’re always losing flashlights, plus they’re cumbersome to carry, and if you’re not on top of the battery situation you can find — surprise! — you’re stuck in the dark with a weak-lighted or dead flashlight. But with this handy app, which was .99, we can now light up at any time.

TurboScan. Again, there’s a bunch of scan apps. We chose this one because reviews were good. And it is good. After taking a pix of a document, you can adjust the parameters (shorten, lengthen, add width) to encompass the entire doc. Haven’t figured out how to email the doc directly yet, but it’s easy to store a doc scan on the iPhone “Camera Roll” and email that image. We used to feel smart carting a remote scanner, which was heavy and clunky, into courthouses to scan file docs…now we just use TurboScan on our iPhones. $1.99.

VoiceRecorderHD. With this app, we can record witness interviews with our iPhones, link it to Dropbox (another app we’re fond of) for file transfer or instead connect the iPhone to our Mac and download the voice file that way. $1.99.

Lumin. Sometimes you gotta read the fine print…and sometimes you gotta read the fine print in the dark. Lumin works like a magnifying glass…lets you read the fine print, even capture the image so you can zoom in on a part of it for closer inspection, and if you’re in dim or no lighting, Lumin also provides a light for viewing. Cool. $1.99.

For the iPad

Evernote. We’re digging Evernote on our iPad, but still learning how to manipulate it on our iPhones (some apps just seem too large for an iPhone, y’know?). But on the iPad, this app is a winner. One of the Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes PIs now carries her iPad to all witness interviews and uses Evernote to take notes, pictures, voice recordings…then sends the report immediately afterward to the attorney-client. You can use the free version or upgrade for a nominal fee (something like $1.99). We went for the upgrade.

There you have it. Our current 4 favorite apps for the iPhone, and one winner for the iPad.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

Like private eye mysteries with thrills, humor and romance? Check out The Zen Man, a 21-st Nick and Nora mystery, now available on Kindle and Nook. Only .99 through January 18.

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Excerpt from How to Write a Dick: Historical Investigations – Traveling Back in Time

Posted by Writing PIs on May 27, 2011

Private investigators sometimes specialize in historical research, typically for cases involving genealogy research or environmental investigations.  An investigator’s research might include meticulous reviews of such documents as census records, archives of newspapers, old city directories, special collections housed at libraries, obituaries, birth and death certificates and probate records. Fortunately, many of these records are becoming available online.

Genealogical Research

The following websites offer comprehensive research into family histories.

Ancestry.com offers links to census records, immigration records, photos, maps, old school yearbooks and more.  Ancestry.com claims it has the largest repository of military records, including draft registrations, pension records and service records. It offers a free 14-day trial membership.

Obitsarchives.com provides offers links to newspaper and obiturary archives, death notices, funeral arrangements and more.  Some libraries also contain hard copies of obituaries.

Familysearch.org is a service provided by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and offers a network of nearly five thousand facilities all over the world that offer public access to genealogical records.

Legacy.com collaborates with hundreds of newspapers in North America, Europe and Austrailia and features obituaries and guestbooks for more than two-thirds of the people who die in the U.S.

Usgenweb.org is a volunteer-driven site that lists free genealogical websites throughout counties and states in the U.S.

Some genealogists also work as private investigators. If your story involves extensive historical research, we suggest you contact The Association of Professional Genealogists. Look up a genealogist in your region who specializes in the era you’re writing about, and request an interview to help you flesh out your story.

Libraries

Besides offering resources for historical research, libraries sometimes house special collections. For example, the Denver Public Library, Western History and Genealogy, has a vast section on genealogy, including the ability to search its obituary and funeral notice indices. Don’t forget specialized libraries such as historical museums, university medical libraries, law school libraries and business school libraries, which also offer special collections. As private investigators we’ve learned that sometimes our best investigative tool is the reference librarian.

The above excerpt is from our book HOW TO WRITE A DICK: A GUIDE FOR WRITING FICTIONAL SLEUTHS

Available on Kindle and Nook

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Writing a PI, Bounty Hunter, Cop? Check Out These Online Magazines

Posted by Writing PIs on March 12, 2011

There’s some great online magazines that contain informative articles for professionals, and the writers who portray their worlds in stories. Writing a story about a private investigator, cop, bounty hunter, CSI expert? Check out some of these online magazines:

Tickle the Wire: Tapping Into the Latest News in Federal Law Enforcement.

Evidence Technology Magazine: Focused exclusively on evidence collection, processing, and preservation, with topics covering the CSI effect, fingerprint technology, computer forensics, forensic DNA, and much more.

Pursuit Magazine: The Journal of Professional Excellence for Investigators.

Collateral: A bail industry magazine that focuses on the bail bond industry, bail bond agents, sureties and the way they conduct business.

American Police Beat: A magazine and forum where law enforcement officers speak out about the issues affecting their personal and professional lives.

Serve Now: Not a magazine, but a handy resource for learning about process servers and their work.

Have a great weekend, Writing PIs

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Do All Private Eyes Carry Concealed Handguns?

Posted by Writing PIs on July 19, 2010

Updated March 28, 2012

We get this question a lot from people.  In those great old noir films, seems every private detective carried one and used it freely.  Then along came Rockford (from the TV show The RockFord Files), and that easy-going, beach-loving PI preferred to keep his gun in a cookie jar than carry it.

We don’t have or use guns (our stun guns are sufficient), and we know many other PIs who don’t carry as well.  A few years ago, there was a best-selling novel starring a junior PI (she’d just started work in her relative’s PI agency) and she carried a Glock in her glove compartment.  The premise of the story was that her relative couldn’t trust her to take on any serious investigative jobs, so she’d been relegated to background checks and hunting down an occasional cheating spouse–and for those jobs, she carried a Glock?  For us, that seriously stretched the story’s believability.

But many fictional PIs do carry firearms, and if the author makes it credible, it makes for a great read.  There was a book out a few years back that starred a PI who’d lost her license, and on top of that, she had a felony rap in her background.  She carried a gun, but she knew she’d be in deep you-know if that became common knowledge, so she took great care to hide the fact (of course, she got caught and tossed into jail when it was found).  The story was plausible because it reflected reality.  Another female fictional PI who carried a gun: Robert Parker’s female PI Sunny Randall.  A former cop with grit and smarts, it’s plausible and nail-biting when Sunny pulls out a rifle and blasts the bad-guy as he trespasses her front door, leaving a bloody crime scene in her own living room.

Just keep in mind that under the conditions any real-life PI would legally carry a firearm, so would a fictional PI.

Keep in mind, too, that in the real world armed PIs rarely (if ever) get into the kind of gunplay seen in fiction.  Many PIs will tell you that if gunplay or a fight breaks out, it indicates an investigator isn’t doing her job well.  When a surprised client asked PI Jim Rockford why he didn’t carry a gun, he said, “Because I don’t want to shoot anybody.”  After all, the primary guiding forces for any investigator are stealth and discretion.

Posted in Concealed Weapons | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

 
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