Digging for Dirt: Private Investigators, Databases and Going to the Source
Posted by Writing PIs on August 25, 2013
It’s interesting how many people think private investigators rely solely on databases for information. I just read an online article where the writer, obviously not a P.I., kicked off her article with the sweeping statement that P.I.s mostly get their information from database searches.
Actually, databases are a starting point for gathering information. The tip of the iceberg, if you will. A smart PI never relies solely on the results from a database search, but verifies that information through additional checks and hands-on research.
Double-Checking Database Search Results
Whenever we run a database search, we always double-check the results before forwarding them to the client. For example, we do a lot of witness locates for attorneys. After we (typically) start with a few Internet/proprietary database searches, we’ll double-check whatever information we’ve retrieved (name, address, phone, etc.) with first-hand research (such as running an address in a county assessor’s database).
The last thing a PI wants to do is forward a list of witness names/address to an attorney who then prepares a stack of subpoenas to be served by a certain date…and in the course of serving the papers, the attorney discovers the PI provided incorrect names and old, outdated addresses!
Going to the Source
In our office we have a saying when we want to know the facts: “Go to the source.” That means heading to a courthouse, clerk and recorder’s office, Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), the assessor’s office, or other institutions that house public records. We typically travel to a courthouse or the DMV several times a week.
“Go to the Source” Tip to Writers: Visit your local courthouse for some real inspiration (when we started our investigative business, Colleen visited courthouses and sat in on random hearings and trials, as a private investigator, to better understand the court system).
If a court clerk approaches you, say you’re there as a citizen to observe—you’ll be welcomed to stay because it is your right to watch court proceedings. Combined with looking at a criminal file or two, you can learn an immeasurable amount in a short period of time–and most probably gather a great deal of material for your fictional efforts.
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