Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

A defense attorney & PI who also happen to be writers

Posts Tagged ‘detective fiction’

Best Classroom PI Course (for PIs and Writers): The Private Investigators Academy of the Rockies

Posted by Writing PIs on March 20, 2011

 

Rick Johnson, founder and president of The Private Investigators Academy of the Rockies

 

There’s a lot of online training courses on how to be a private investigator, but one of the best (if not the best) classroom courses is The Private Investigators Academy of the Rockies in Denver, Colorado.

We know because we took this course years ago when we first opened our private investigations business. Since then, we’ve taken many other courses, and taught a fair share ourselves, but if you’re starting out in the business, want to brush up your PI skills, or are a writer wanting to learn about the world of private investigations, take this class.

Here’s a sampling of why it’s an excellent course of study:

  • Rick Johnson, founder and president of the academy, has 35 years of experience in law enforcement and private investigations.
  • Course study includes investigative tactics, techniques, tools, as well as the appropriate ethics and legalities of the profession.
  • Investigative topics include these specialized areas of investigations: domestic relations, legal investigations, criminal defense investigations, insurance investigations, financial fraud investigations, and process service.
  • Presenters include lawyers and experts in the fields of financial fraud, surveillance, family law, criminal defense and process service.

But don’t take it solely from us–read about the course, contact them, ask questions:

Click this link to read more: The Private Investigators Academy of the Rockies

Or send an email to Rick Johnson at rick@denverpi.com

Oh, we’re not affiliated with this class, just passing on the information to those who want to learn from one of the best.

Have a great weekend, Writing PIs

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Expectation of Privacy: Why Is It So Important for Private Investigators?

Posted by Writing PIs on March 15, 2011

This article now available in How Do Private Eyes Do That? available on Kindle and Nook.

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Some of Our Favorite 2010 Private Eye Links

Posted by Writing PIs on December 23, 2010

As 2010 come to an end, lots of people post their favorite top-10 somethings (favorite 10 books, movies, whatever).  We’d like to post 10 of our favorite, and best of all free, 2010 private eye links because we can’t decide which of the many we use and like are actually the best of the bunch.  So here goes…

Some of Our Favorite, and Free!, 2010 Private Eye Links

An excellent, informative private investigations blog from McEachin & Associates, Ltd. : The Confidential Resource

It’s still the most comprehensive public search engine around, our first “go to” place to do a quick look-up: Google

We love to read about fictional PIs, too.  This site is a grand journey into the world of fictional PIs, from Victorian England to the mean streets of New York: The Thrilling Detective

Great source for investigation articles by PIs, as well as the latest investigation news from around the world: PINow.com Investigation News

PI’s Declassified Internet radio show: PI’s DeClassified

Online trade journal for private investigators, legal professionals, and protective services industries: Pursuit Magazine

Have a safe, happy holiday, Writing PIs

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Answering Writer’s Question About PIs Using Disguises in Undercover Work

Posted by Writing PIs on November 8, 2010

Today we’re posting a question, and our answer, from a writer about a sleuth character conducting undercover work in a disguise.

Writer’s Question: Is it okay for a PI to do surveillance undercover in a disguise to gain access to the private area? I mean, if the client welcomes him into the home as a cleaning person, it wouldn’t be trespassing and the PI could snoop without ‘disturbing’ anything. Or would that be frowned upon because it’s considered getting evidence under false pretenses?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: We love the cleaning person scenario! But let’s look at it this way–what could be objectionable about this pretense? Any pretense that is too extreme and/or involves harm to the person or property of the surveillance subject is more likely to be found illegal. Lately, a lot of lawyers have become nervous about pretexts and pretenses because federal investigators frown on wide-scale use of made-up reasons and scenarios to obtain private information.  Using a cleaning person as a pretense to gain admission to a home by consent effectively cancels that consent, turning the entry into a trespass.

In a story, it could be very interesting if the fictional PI risks conducting this trespass deception, then sees something in the house that can later be recovered by lawful means.  At this point, if the PI is selectively silent about the trespass, the PI could use the lawfully obtained information in court without revealing the earlier illegal prextextual entry.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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Answering Writer’s Question: How Would a PI Request a Private Autopsy?

Posted by Writing PIs on October 25, 2010

Writer’s Question: How would a PI go about having a private autopsy done?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: If the body is with the state medical examiner, that agency is subject to the jurisdiction of the local court. The family of the decedent can seek a court order to have a private forensic doctor either attend the state-conducted autopsy or to conduct a private, second autopsy following the state’s.

How does a PI facilitate this? By obtaining the names, contact info, and pricing of private forensic doctors for the family. The PI might also (if a forensic doctor isn’t already known to the PI) conduct a background check on the doctor for the the family to ensure there are no skeletons in the doctor’s closet, no pun intended. The PI will make the arrangements for the doctor to appear at the autopsy, and often the PI will also attend and photograph the autopsy. In short, the PI will take steps to guarantee that the chain of custody of evidence and the documentation will be done with as much care and attention to courtroom details as the state would require of its own autopsy procedures.

State-conducted autopsies are typically done in coroners’ offices. Private autopsies are typically done in hospitals. The PI facilitating a private autopsy might also help reserve the room at the hospital.

Shaun, one of the “Writing PIs” of this blog, attended his first autopsy (which he watched as a public defender 30 years ago), which was a state-conducted autopsy performed at a mortuary. The reason it was done at a mortuary was that the county didn’t have a coroner’s office at that time. This same situation (no coroner’s office) may still occur in more rural areas in the U.S.

To supplement our above answer, we asked a fellow PI (Dean Beers, CLI, http://www.privateinvestigations.org/) to elaborate on private autopsies (below).  Dean has an extensive background in medicolegal death investigations.

There are two autopsies – medical (or hospital) and forensic.

The former is often by a hospital pathologist and paid for by the hospital with the families permission and at their discretion.  This is only to determine/verify any disease process.  These are also referred to as medical curiosity.  This is not research, such as with donated to science, but similar and essentially the same otherwise.

The latter is a medicolegal autopsy that should only be performed by a board certified forensic pathologist or FP  (the other two being clinical and anatomical, with surgical being a subset, pathologists).  FPs are trained in both the legal issues and injury causations.  FPs primarily work for coroner and ME systems, sometimes jointly for a hospital (such as my jurisdiction).

A family may request a medical autopsy – but the decision is up to the hospital as they are paying the tab and it must fit within their criteria.  If the death is suspicious (and particularly involving an exhumation) then an FP should be consulted.  FPs are often ‘triple board certified’ and therefore have the most training and experience to determine if the death is natural causes, foul play or some other unusual circumstance.  The FP is also trained in the legal matters, including testifying as an expert.

There is no speed enhancement to a private autopsy – it may be slower in some cases (but not often, depending on the case load).  If the case is a coroner’s case, the body belongs to the coroner.  By statute the coroner authorizes (or declines) the autopsy.  If they authorize the autopsy the tab is to the state or county.  If it is declined (medical records review confirms a natural death) then the family can request a private autopsy after the body is released and they pay the tab.  They may also have a second autopsy, this may be by exhumation or an FP’s review of the autopsy report, investigative report, toxicology and microscopy (there is a lot involved in death investigations and autopsies) because these samples are preserved.  The private autopsy can be $2000-$5000, depends – and may involve only an FP or an FP and investigator for a full review/investigation.   Autopsies are not paid for by medical/health insurance.

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Bored to Death: Jonathan was smart in that closet!

Posted by Writing PIs on October 4, 2010

Last night’s episode of Bored to Death (HBO, Sundays, 10 p.m. EDT) had us laughing so hard, we were crying.  Jonathan, the wannabe private eye who’s launched  his illegal investigative career (he’s not licensed) by advertising in Craiglist ads, ends up in his client’s bedroom closet, on surveillance to catch a cheating spouse.  To Jonathan’s surprise, he catches…no, we won’t spoil it for those of you who haven’t seen it yet.

Let’s chat about that bedroom-sleuthing scene.

Was it legal for Jonathan the PI to hide in the bedroom closet? Yes.  The unsuspecting wife had no expectation of privacy, unfortunately, because her husband had given Jonathan permission to hide in the bedroom.

Was it smart for Jonathan to respond to his client’s text messages while on surveillance? No.  Sorry, Jonathan, but it’s a good rule of thumb to not be real-time interactive with clients while on surveillance.  You need to be watching the locale/person, not distracted by text messages, phone calls, reading a book…you get the picture.  It can take only a few seconds to miss what you’re hired to be surveilling.

Was it smart for Jonathan to text back to his client that nothing was happening? The issue of texting aside, YES!  Especially when you’re working a surveillance case where emotions run high–which they usually do in a suspected cheating spouse case.  The last thing a PI needs is an upset, hysterical client barging onto the scene.  Remember the woman in Texas who ran over her cheating husband THREE TIMES in a parking lot?  Guess how she knew her husband was there–the PI she’d hired called her from the hotel and told her.  Which is why we make it a rule that we do not converse or otherwise communicate with clients during the course of a surveillance.  Instead, they receive surveillance reports afterward.

No PI in New York would get by working as an unlicensed PI this long, so we’re hoping Jonathan gets caught soon, which could be a very entertaining premise.  But Bored to Death isn’t about gritty realism and rules.  It’s a funky, funny, sometimes surreal show that is getting better and better.  We can’t wait for next Sunday’s episode.

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Answering Writer’s Question: How Do People Who Want to Disappear Stay Hidden?

Posted by Writing PIs on September 29, 2010

Today’s world is a small one–it’s not as easy to disappear, much less stay that way.  Today we post our answer to a writer’s question on this topic.

Writer’s Question: Let’s say a person plans his or her disappearance and pulls if off successfully.  How can he can stay hidden? What are some of the ways people have tried, but haven’t worked?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: As to successful ways a person can stay hidden, they cannot use banking/financial institutions they previously used.  Their funds need to be liquid, and preferably kept in an account offshore.  They must ignore creating government records (such as auto registrations, property ownership records, government licenses, bidding/accepting government contracts, and so forth).  A crucial element of staying hidden is for the person who is hiding to change hobbies and similar life patterns.  Recently, a criminal fled our area, established residence in a foreign country, kept his funds liquid, refrained from creating any traceable records (such as a driver’s license), used a forged passport, changed his style of dress and hair, even married a local woman in the foreign country (and essentially “buried” himself underneath her identifiers–meaning, everything was in her name).  But he messed up in one big way: he had a notorious hobby and vocation, which he prominently displayed and advertised in the host country.  A person saw this individual on “America’s Most Wanted” and recognized him from this hobby (the person was either a tourist or local and had seen the advertisements this individual had placed in the area).  This man had done just about everything right to hide his identity and ability to be found, but he failed to abandon his established hobby.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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Answering Writer’s Question: Why Is It Okay for PIs to Forward People’s Personal Information to Lawyers?

Posted by Writing PIs on September 27, 2010

This is a great question, one we’ve learned sometimes stymies writers.  Although lawyers aren’t known to have “bad intentions” in such real-life scenarios, just think of the complications and fun twists if one did in a fiction story.

Writer’s Question: I’ve read that PIs shouldn’t forward a client’s personal information to a civilian-client (versus an attorney-client). Does this mean that giving the info to an attorney is perfectly all right? Provided you’re working for one, of course. What if you suspect the attorney has personal involvement and, maybe, bad intentions?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: The fact that an attorney is licensed means that he/she answers to a higher authority (the attorney regulatory agency for that state).  In addition to their responsibilities as citizens, attorneys have additional ethical responsibilities imposed on them by the agency.  The regulatory rules governing attorneys generally require higher standards of conduct than those required by the laws on citizens in our society.  For example, there are many regulatory rules that require lawyers to report misconduct of their fellow attorneys and sometimes even clients, whereas there are no such rules imposed on citizens.  Therefore, an ill-intentioned lawyer is more likely to be discovered and punished than non-lawyers.  Not to say there aren’t crooked or ill-intentioned lawyers who will break the law, but they’re risking their licenses and livelihood to do so, which makes chances slim that they’d act out “bad intentions.”

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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Another Summer of Surveillances: What We Learned This Year

Posted by Writing PIs on September 12, 2010

Every summer, the number of surveillances we conduct increases.  We figure this is due to people being out and about more in the sunny weather, parents not being tied to their kids’ school schedules, people taking vacations, and maybe (we like to think) our growing reputation as capable investigators.

This past summer, we learned (or in some cases, re-valued) some lessons in conducting successful surveillances, which we’ll share in today’s post.

Lesson #1: An investigator needs to respect the heat! While conducting a days-long, grueling surveillance this summer, one of us had issues with heat exhaustion.  It was a strong reminder that any work conducted outdoors in the summertime means staying cool & staying hydrated.  Here’s a few ideas for staying cool: bringing ice packs along on the surveillance, picking shady spots to park in, ensuring there’s adequate ventilation, if appropriate running air conditioning (there’s also portable units investigators can purchase that help keep the inside of a vehicle cool), when possible taking breaks in air-conditioned buildings, wearing a rimmed hat and sunglasses.  Staying hydrated includes such safeguards as drinking water, Gatorade or fruit juices (not sodas or coffee!), as well as wearing loose-fitting and cool clothes.

Lesson #2: Mine your client for details. It’s funny how many people call and ask us to follow someone without any suggestions or knowledge about the subject’s schedule or habits.  Maybe in the movies a PI can jump into a car and follow someone for hours without any idea where that person typically goes that time of day, or is scheduled to go on that particular day, but it’s asking for failure in real-life surveillances.  It aids the surveillance significantly to have an idea where the person might be travelling, or if they have a set appointment (hair dresser, exercise club, therapist) for that day and time.  How does a PI find this information?  It’s critical to interview the client and ask about the subject’s habits, schedules, work routines, and so forth.  Sometimes we’ll work on an “on-call” basis with a client (he/she calls us when they have information where a subject will be that day–of course, this doesn’t mean we’re available at that particular time, but this is an understanding of the “on-call” approach).

Lesson #3: Stay in close touch with your PI partner.  We conducted multiple two-car mobile surveillances this summer, and we re-learned the value of staying in constant touch when we’re both “rolling.”  Before we drive through traffic following a vehicle, we’ll call each other on our cells, then leave that line of communication open as we drive.  We put our phones on speaker, set them on our laps, then talk to each other as we drive.  This way, we can immediately inform each other if the car is turning, if we’re playing “leap frog” with the vehicle, and so forth.  In the “old days” we used our two-way radios, which got problematic if we got out of the range of the signal (it also was difficult to be pressing the talk button at times while driving).

These were our summer surveillance lessons, and techniques we learned to re-value, for 2010.  We’ve heard other investigators talk about using tinted windows, installing a roof vent in the vehicle, wearing canvas shoes, if possible working at night vs. the day, one even swore she remained cool with a bandana filled with ice wrapped around her neck (an interesting image!).

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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Answering Writer’s Question: Are There International Investigators?

Posted by Writing PIs on September 2, 2010

Today’s investigator typically works cases that involve tasks in other countries–maybe you’re asked by an attorney-client to serve a subpoena in another country, or you need to locate the whereabouts of someone who neighbors claim moved overseas, or you need to find a witness who’s left the country.  Most PIs sub-contract such investigative tasks to a PI licensed in that other country.  How to find PIs in other countries?  Most of us belong to international investigators associations, so it’s easy to look up the country and find a fellow PI who specializes in the type of work you need.

A writer recently asked a question about international investigations, which we’re posting below along with our answer.

Writer’s Question: I’d like to have my fictional PI specialize in international investigations.  How realistic is this? Are there PIs who specialize in this?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: In our experiences with international investigations, we will sub-contract with a PI/s in another country for work we need done there (from locating people to serving legal papers).  We have worked personally with a PI who specializes in international investigations–he has offices in L.A., New York, London, and another city or two in Europe.  When case work comes in for a locate in France, for example, he sub-contracts with a PI in that country.  One big reason that a PI doesn’t travel to different countries are the restrictions created by local licensing.  Even here in the U.S., we can’t travel to New Mexico (a neighboring state) and conduct investigations unless we’re licensed in that state (which we aren’t).  So we sub-contract with a PI from New Mexico when cases come up that require work in that state.

So with your story idea, a PI who specializes in international missing persons would most likely have an extensive network of PIs around the world with whom he/she sub-contracts.  It’s plausible that he might work with them (by flying to his associate PI’s country and working under that PI’s supervision).  Along those lines, we’ve had instances where a PI flies into our state and works “under our authority” for casework in our region/jurisdiction.  Or, your international PI might be licensed to work in different countries (it’d be surprising if he/she had licenses in more than three or four countries)–in this scenario, your PI doesn’t need to work under other PIs’ authority/supervision because he/she is licensed in that country.  Of course, this international PI needs to be conversant in languages for any countries he/she is licensed in (which you’ve probably already thought of).

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