Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

A blog for PIs and writers/readers of the PI genre

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Answering Writers’ Questions: Taping Conversations and PI-Police Relationships

Posted by Writing PIs on March 25, 2013

Thanks to all who downloaded How to Write a Dick: A Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-life Sleuths How to Write a Dick coverduring its 99-cents sale this past weekend.  As of this morning it is on three Amazon bestseller lists, and #1 on two of those lists.

Screen shot March 24 2013 3 Amazon bestseller lists

The book began as a series of courses we taught writers about crafting a private eye character/story.  We got a lot of great questions over the years — today we’re sharing two of those.

Question #1: Is It Legal to Tape a Conversation with Another Person?


WRITER’S QUESTION: Is it legal to tape your conversation with another person if you don’t make them aware that they are being taped? I believe this is different for different states.  Do you know where I might search online to find these regulations?

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S ANSWER: Here’s a list of state laws on recording:

WRITER’S QUESTION:  In my story, a cop (not PI) routinely turns on a tape recorder in his pocket when he’s questioning witnesses, but there’s one time in particular that I don’t want him to have to ask permission.  I’m not worried about whether it’s
admissible in court, but if it’s a big no-no to even do it, I’ll need to change the story at that point.

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S ANSWER: Unless your cop is asking permission to tape the conversation, he’s playing with eavesdropping (which is a felony). Saying that, cops have certain privileges to work around these things, such as necessity. Keep in mind a D.A. most likely isn’t hot to prosecute a cop for eavesdropping. Our suggestion is to interview a cop about your story scenario.

As PIs, we don’t record anyone without their permission. Period.

Question #2: Do Private Investigators and Police Detectives Never Get Along?

Writer’s Question: I just read a book where the police detective and the private eye kept sparring before developing a friendship. Are cops and PIs like that in the real world, too?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: We see that same kind of PI-cop conflict all the time in books, TV shows and movies, too. In reality, most real-life PI-cop relationships are characterized by professional distance and unemotional exchanges.

Many PIs Have Law Enforcement Backgrounds

We’re saying most here. A majority of PIs have law enforcement backgrounds, and with the agencies with whom they worked, they typically maintain a more collegial relationship. Do these former law enforcement PIs get perks — such as inside information, tips, and access to law enforcement databases — from their former agencies (which is also often depicted in books and film)? No. Although there are friendly exchanges and social invitations exchanged, neither party wants to be seen as improperly advancing information and displaying favoritism to law enforcement officers (LEOs).

Here at Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes, we work with various PIs who are former LEOs. Generally speaking, we have found their life experience to cause their investigations to slant toward law enforcement and prosecution. While they work for defense lawyers, they still think like law enforcement officers.

Former-LEO PIs Often Have Years of Experience on the Streets with Tough, Violent People

sheriffMeaning, a former LEO PI might have unsubstantiated bias against their criminal defense clients. In all fairness, this bias is the product of years on the street with tough, violent, and often dishonest people — easy to see how a former-LEO PI might have developed opinions about the ethics of accused individuals.

To balance this point of view, former LEO PIs are also best situated to know how current police can make mistakes in their investigation procedures, such as constitutional propriety and evidentiary processing. These PIs are best able to advise defense lawyers about how to attack the integrity of a police investigation.

We Have a Good Friend Who’s a Police Detective

For many years, the Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes PIs had a unique situation in their neighborhood. A few blocks over was a coffee shop owned and run by a local police detective (he worked at the small coffee shop during his off hours). We liked to hang out at the shop and jaw about cases, both past and current. Add to the mix that one of us is also a criminal defense attorney, there were some lively conversations and a lot of good-natured teasing about our various roles.

To be clear, we never discussed shared cases. However, both we and the police detective got valuable information about the how-tos, whys and the end results of investigations. In this particular relationship, all three of us stepped outside of our professional roles and transcended our rivalries.

Postscript: Our detective friend no longer runs the coffee shop.  We miss the java, but the friendship goes on.  So much so, that recently when a radio producer wanted to contact someone who knew us well because she needed to fact-check an interview set to run on national radio, we called the detective and asked if he’d be willing to be this contact.  He was all over it, insisting we give the producer not only his personal cell phone, but his home number, too.  Do PIs and PD detectives never get along?  Maybe in the movies and fiction stories, but not for us.

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