Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

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

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Posts Tagged ‘private investigator’

How Law Enforcement Is Using Social Media to Solve Crimes

Posted by Writing PIs on October 24, 2012

Social media is about more than connecting with pals and learning tid-bits about other organizations and people–it’s also a tool for private investigators and law enforcement to investigate and solve crimes.  Today we’ll look at some recent stats on law enforcement and how they’re using social media.

New York PD Lays Out Rules for Cops Using Social Media

Recently, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly issued a five-page memo outlining guidelines for the NYPD’s rules for using social media in their investigations.  For example, offices involved in cases that involve social media may register their social media aliases with the department, than use a department-issued laptop (whose IP cannot be traced) for their social media interactions.

Below are several articles about Raymond Kelly’s social media measures:

Ray Kelly and NYPD: How the NYPD Has Opened the Floodgates for Social Media Spying

NYPD says cops can use social media aliases to investigate

NYPD to boost gang unit over social media violence

Whatever You Say or Show on Social Media Is Public

Some people seem to think that just because they’re on a private account where they monitor who has access means they can post whatever they want.  Think again.  What if one of those people who’s been granted access goes to the police, or the police go to him/her, and that person provides their login/password to the police to review someone else’s posts/pictures/etc.? That’s exactly what happened Melvin Colon, a suspected New York gang member who who not only posted Facebook photos of himself flashing gang signs, but he also made references to past violent crimes.  One of his pals gave police access to Colon’s “private” information, and this past August a federal judge ruled Colon lost all claims to privacy when he shared these photos and stories with his friends.

80 Percent of Law Enforcement Personnel Use Social Media in Their Investigations

Based on data from and, Background Check created this inforgraphic that shows such information as which social media networks law enforcement accesses most often, for what reasons law enforcement uses social media (#1: identifying people and locations), the percentage of government agencies using social media in their investigations (the top user: 81% of federal agencies), and more.

To read the infographic, courtesy of, click here

Private Investigators Use Social Media, Too

Here at Gums, Gams, and Gumshoes, we’ve posted several articles about the use of social media, including some social media resources:

Tracking People: Google, Social Media and Surveillance

Free Online Resources for Backgrounds, Phone Numbers, Professional Licensure and and Real-Time Social Media

Hot Research Sites, Tips from a Lawyer and Support for a Fellow PI

Have a great week, Writing PIs

Related articles

NYPD is monitoring Facebook to fight gang bloodshed (

Criminal Investigation Stats – Increasing Amounts of Officers are Solving Crimes with Social Media ( (

Law Enforcement Takes Social Media Seriously (

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Booklist Online’s “Web Crush of the Week”: Guns, Gams and Gumshoes

Posted by Writing PIs on May 31, 2012

Thank you, Booklist Online!

The American Library Association‘s Booklist Online’s Reference Editor Rebecca Vnuk has designated Guns, Gams and Gumshoes to be “Web Crush of the Week” this week as part of their Mystery Month celebration.  Thank you Ms. Vnuk and Booklist Online. An excerpt of the write-up is below:

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes is a blog geared primarily to mystery, suspense and thriller writers, but readers will find plenty to enjoy here as well.  The contributors know what they’re talking about:  Shaun Kaufman is  a trial attorney specializing in personal injury, criminal defense and business litigation, and Colleen Collins is a novelist. They’re both licensed private investigators, to boot.

To read the rest of the write-up, click here.

To celebrate being the “Web Crush of the Week,” we’ll post links to some of our recent readers’ favorite articles, below.  To read an article, click the link.

Top Mistakes Writers Make When Depicting Crime Scenes

Flashlights are dandy for private eyes in stories, but many of today’s PIs are also using flashlight apps on their smartphones!

Story Foibles in Private Eye Fiction

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

Private Eye Stories That Get It Right

Answering Writer’s Question: Are PIs and Cops Compatible?

Answering Writers’ Questions: What Records Can PIs Legally Obtain?

Private Investigators and Murder Cases

Shaun Kaufman writes about civil and criminal litigation issues, and sometimes basketball, at

Additional Articles of Interest

As Ms. Vnuk mentioned in her write-up, one of the Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s authors is Denver, Colorado, trial attorney Shaun Kaufman. Below are some of recent articles he’s posted on his site — as you can see, he’s also a die-hard basketball fan. To read an article, click on the link:

What Personal Injury Lawyers Can Learn from Dwayne Wade and LeBron James

Copyright Trolling: Don’t Be a Victim

Miami Heat-Bostom Celtics Match Mirrors DA-Defense Contest

Remembering Military Justice

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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Military Justice, Historical Research and Contest to Win a $10 Amazon Gift Certificate

Posted by Writing PIs on May 28, 2012

Shaun Kaufman and Colleen Collins, the Writing PIs

Today at Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes we have a smattering of links to share, from Shaun Kaufman‘s educational article on military justice to tips for historical research.  Last, there’s a fun contest running through June 4, 2012 where the lucky winner gets a $10 Amazon gift certificate!

“Remembering Military Justice” by Shaun Kaufman

This article outlines key differences between civilian and military criminal defense. To read, click here.

Historical Research Tips

Below are some articles on researching history — handy info for writers, researchers and those interested in investigating people and events in the past. To read an article, click on the link.

Tips from a PI: Historical Research Sites for Your Stories by Colleen Collins

State Historical Society of North Dakota: Research Tips for Beginners

History Detectives: Historical Research Checklist

From Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes: Historical Research Links

Win a $10 Amazon Gift Certificate!

Today through June 4, 2012, Mrs. Mommy Booknerd’s Book Reviews is running a contest for The Zen Man by author-private investigator (and Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s co-author) Colleen Collins.  For more information on how to enter the contest, click link below (hint: if you post a comment to this Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s blog, you get bonus points!):

Contest: Win a $10 Amazon gift certificate

Have a great week, Writing PIs

Posted in Historical Research, Historical Research Links, The Zen Man by Colleen Collins | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Private Investigators: News, Resources and Some Fun Stuff

Posted by Writing PIs on May 13, 2012

Here at Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes, we write a lot about serious issues.  Today, we’d like to offer a smattering of items, from investigation news, handy resources and even some fun stuff.  Yeah, fun stuff.  It’s Mother’s Day.  Time to smile a little.

Private Investigators in the News

Click on a link to read article:

Private Eyes Spy on Staff (The Portside Messenger)

Private Eyes Spy on Exam Sheets: Private Detectives May Be Called in to Catch Any Internet Cheats (The Connexion)

Piles of junk prompt St. John’s to hire private eyes (CTV News)

Private investigators are selling access to financial and criminal records (The Guardian)

Handy Resources

Click on link to read more about service/product.

Read-Notify: Track your email. Know when emails you’ve sent get read, even from what city.

Convoflow: Harvest real-time social media conversations. Be automatically notified when any web page changes.

Google Keyword Tool: Evaluate the usefulness of keywords before using them in websites and blogs.

Fun Stuff

Click on a link to check it out:

Quick Quiz: Check Your Knowledge of the FBI in Pop Culture (Brought to you by the FBI)

FBI Widgets (Want “10 Most Wanted” on your Cell? An “FBI History” widget? A “Wanted by the FBI” module?…All brought to you again by the FBI, who’re showing you they can be fun, sorta, too).

Inside Private Eye: A video look at the inner work of the satirical UK publication Private Eye

“Another Whacko Process Service: Is It Time to Quit?” On a sister site, one of the Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s PIs debates the process-serving biz after escaping a woman wielding a frying pan.

Have a great Mother’s Day, Writing PIs

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Story Foibles in Private Eye Fiction

Posted by Writing PIs on May 3, 2012

Here at Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes, we’re not only private investigators (and one of us also a trial attorney), but we also love reading the private eye genre.  Lots of great authors and books out there…and then sometimes we read something so implausible, so silly, we relate to Dorothy Parker who once said, “This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”

Without naming names or titles (in fact, we’ve disguised some story attributes so authors/books aren’t identifiable), we’ll discuss a few instances lately where we wanted to throw a book with great force.

Clueless, Really?

We just read a novel, actually one that is part of a series, where the private eye team met with an individual.  As readers, we had

PIs Don’t Leave Their Partners Clueless

no idea who this individual was, but considering the fictional PI team was hot on the trail of a case, obviously this person was someone who might have pertinent information about a suspect or the crime itself, or maybe was an eye witness, or…well, we were ready to find out.

Imagine our surprise when one of the PIs had no idea why the meeting was taking place! The individual with whom the PI team was meeting asked the clueless PI (very loosely paraphrasing the dialogue here), “You don’t know who am I?”  The clueless PI answered, “No.”  The individual turns to the other PI and asked, “Your partner doesn’t know why the two of you are here?”  to which the first PI quipped something like, “Yeah, I don’t like to tell my partner everything — it’s good for [the clueless PI] to be surprised.”

What?  A PI team goes to a meeting with a possibly important resource/witness/contact, and one of the PIs is purposefully left uninformed and clueless?  This was one of several clueless episodes in this story, and the one that made us finally shut the book for good.  There is no way one of us would drive the other to such a meeting and not brief our partner on the ride. It’s to the benefit of any case we’re working that we’re both as informed as possible.  We both have our strengths, our styles of interviewing/investigating, and if we’re both well informed, we’ve just doubled our chances to unearth that telling detail, maybe even solve the case.

This isn’t PI rocket science.  Even in the business world, who wants to purposefully take a clueless person to a meeting?  Or how about leaving your car for repair at a shop and not tell anyone what you want fixed or looked at in your car?

Enough said.  Onto the next PI peeve.

Cell Phone, Really?

It’s fairly safe to say that the majority of current-day PIs have basic-to-advanced technological skills. For example many of us rely on our smartphones to do a handful of investigative tasks that used to require a bucket load of equipment.  For example, at our agency, we use our smartphones to record and transmit witness interviews, take photos, even scan and transmit documents.  Cool stuff.

Here’s our techno-peeve: We recently started to read a story set in 1990 where the PI didn’t answer her phone because she’d forgotten to charge it.  Uh, hello?  Were there cell phones in common use in 1990?  To be fair, we researched cell phones on the Internet.  According to “The Evolution of Cell Phone Design Between 1983 and 2009,” the first truly portable phone was the Motorola MicroTAC 9800X made in 1989 — a monster affair with a ruler-size antennae.  According to Wikipedia, the 9800X’s price tag was between $2,495 and $3,495.  This wasn’t a rich PI by any means — in fact, this gumshoe had to scrimp on food and other essentials to make the monthly rent.  Seriously doubt this fictional PI could afford a cell phone that cost several thousand dollars. Heck, even today, my business partner and I wouldn’t blow that kind of money on a cell phone!

By the way, the next cell phone was the digital hand-size mobile telephone called the Motorola International 3200 made in 1992, two years after this story took place.

It’s a small point, maybe, but cell phones are such a part of our world today that this inaccurate factoid stood out like Philip Marlowe at a nunnery.  Wouldn’t have taken much research for the writer to realize the PI probably used a landline in 1990. Still can’t figure out how this slipped past the editor…maybe he/she was too busy on their cell phone to notice.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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Private Eye News: From Training Programs to Gadgets

Posted by Writing PIs on April 3, 2012


Some news items related to private eyes, both the real-life variety and those in fiction. Click on links below to read more:

Top 25 Private Investigation Training and Education programs from

Got a client who needs home security? Easy-to-install, night-vision home security video camera that requires no software installation. Plus it’s relatively cheap. Check out Dropcam.

The Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s PIs will be teaching “Surveillance 101” and “Finding Missing Persons 101” at the Pike’s Peak Writers Conference April 20-22.

News item about former PI-turned-chef who claims O.J. really didn’t do it: “Private investigator releases book claiming he has evidence O.J. Simpson didn’t do it”

April 3 news blurb about our own Guns, Gams, and Gumshoe’s Colleen Collins: Kindle Nation Daily Bargain Book Alert: Colleen Collins’ THE ZEN MAN is Our eBook of the Day at just 99 Cents, with 4.2 Stars on 8 Reviews, and Here’s a Free Sample! 

A guide to what data mining is, how it works, and why it’s important: “Everything You Wanted to Know About Data Mining But Were Afraid to Ask”

Have a great week, 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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Answering Writer’s Question: Are PIs and Cops Compatible?

Posted by Writing PIs on March 17, 2012

Today we answer a writer’s question — one that a lot of writers ask, actually — about PIs and law enforcement.

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

Meaning, 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.

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

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

Postscript: Our detective friend is planning on retiring in the next few years and is thinking about becoming a PI. We’ve invited him to join our agency. He’s invited us to take over his coffee shop.

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Answering Writers’ Questions: What Records Can PIs Legally Obtain?

Posted by Writing PIs on March 12, 2012

Today we answer writers’ questions about PIs obtaining people’s records, such as drivers’ records and court records.

Writer’s Question: What are the legal reasons for a PI to request and obtain public records? What would be some “illegal” reasons?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’ Answer: Statutes provide these permissible uses, or as you said “legal reasons.” For example, the Drivers Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) is a federal law that regulates how information is disseminated (which includes who can access this information) for drivers’ licenses, auto registrations, auto titles, motor vehicle emissions, motor vehicle recalls (and other objects of governmental purposes). Here’s a partial list of who can access DPPA-type information for others: federal, state or local courts and law enforcement in connection with driver safety, theft, emission and product recalls; licensed private investigation or security services; civil, criminal or administrative court proceedings; collection agencies; anyone in possession of written permission from the subject.

In our state private investigators are not required to be licensed — when we go to the DMV to obtain others’ driving records, we must provide the court case number and Colorado jurisdiction for which the search is being conducted.

There are also various restrictions in different states for the public, including private investigators, in accessing court files. In Colorado, private investigators can legally request any court file except for sexual assault, juvenile and probate. We don’t know the statutes for other states, but it’s possible a PI in another state might have to show his/her license (similar to law enforcement) to access court files containing sensitive information (such as probate, financial statements in divorce cases, proprietary and trade secret information, sexual assault).

As to “illegal reasons” to access records, you can also think of these as the non-permissible reasons. For example, a PI can’t access a driver’s history to find that person’s residence so the PI can stalk, intimidate or harass that person. Those are obviously non-permissible reasons and the PI could end up answering to federal charges for violating the DPPA and state charges for participating in stalking. Similarly, a PI cannot obtain other records that are governed by permissible reasons (such as police records, water district records, fire district records) for personal use (for example, to solicit clients for himself or for a lawyer, or to resale the information for profit).

Writer’s Question: My character isn’t a PI; she’s an investigative journalist, but I figured she’d use a lot of the same techniques and methods as a PI. Another character in my story, actually the romantic interest of the PI, is a sheriff. Would he, too, use some of the same resources as the PI?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’ Answer: Regarding techniques and methods, an investigative journalist is similar to a PI. A fair number of investigative journalists who lost their jobs during this recession (as newspapers have downsized) have become PIs in our state. One of our best friends is a former Los Angeles paper crime reporter who became a PI. As to your hero sheriff, he’d have access to a lot more resources than a PI. For example, he can tap into the FBI’s NCIC, the National Crime Information Center. He can also access national databases of motor vehicle registrations, certain military information, and immigration records.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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Answering Writers’ Questions About Private Investigators Investigating Kidnappings

Posted by Writing PIs on February 20, 2012

Today we’re answering a few writers’ questions about their stories where kidnappings occur and people hire private investigators. How might a U.S. private investigator get involved? What if the kidnapping occurred in another territory or country?

Writer’s Question: In my story, a 16-year-old girl is kidnapped and taken to Puerto Rico. Would an American PI have to check-in with the local police while searching for the missing girl in Puerto Rico?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: What if the PI visited Puerto Rico as a family friend? Personally, if we were contacted by someone who wanted to find a missing person in Puerto Rico, we’d go through our network to find a reliable, experienced PI in Puerto Rico and affiliate with that person. Our past experience has been 1-we can get into sticky legal situations if we go to another territory and 2-a local PI best knows the region, contacts, law enforcement, etc.

But for your story, perhaps you want your Florida PI-heroine to travel to Puerto Rico. Okay, back to her calling herself a family friend — that would work. Or, perhaps she does contact local law enforcement for advice, directions, or to let them know that she’s going to be doing things and visiting places related to the case, but she’s not a kidnapper herself. When we investigate cases in remote regions in Colorado, we always contact local law enforcement first (for their advice, directions, and sometimes just so they know we’re not suspicious characters).  But does your fictional PI have to contact law enforcement?  No.

Writer’s Question: What would happen if an American PI did not check-in with another country’s law enforcement and went about her business investigating?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoe’s Answer: She could be brought in for questioning although she probably wouldn’t be charged with anything unless she impedes that government’s or the U.S. federal investigations of the missing person. If the American PI is licensed in a state (currently, only five U.S. states do not require licensure for PIs) — we’re guessing that state regulatory agency wouldn’t care if she’s in another country unless she committed a crime there. But we’re guessing. It’s a good idea to contact the state professional private investigator association (for the state in which your fictional PI is licensed) and see what they say about your story scenario.

Writer’s Question: How would you know if the missing person case you’re working on has crossed paths with the FBI? Would information be closed off to you? Would they pay you a visit in some way?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoe’s Answer: The only way a PI is going to earn a visit from the FBI is if the PI interferes with the federal investigation. Yes, they would pay an in-person visit most likely.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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