Where does the Difference Lie Between Private Investigators and Police Officers?

By: Samantha Castillo

It is often assumed that the roles of private investigators and police officers are interchangeable, with the key difference being that one operates solo and the other is part of an organization. This assumption is very far from actuality. Police officers hold entirely different powers and often are called into action when there is already evidence of a crime. Private investigators on the other hand, are limited in their authority and are more likely to be utilized to gather proof that a crime exists.

The skill set of both professions are where comparisons can really be drawn. The ability to conduct research in a legal manner in order to compile a profile for a subject or suspect is a key part of either position. Take that and compile it with in-field tactics and safety, and you have established a basis for conducting investigations and collecting evidence. So why does there seem to be disconnect between the two professions and their cooperation with each other? Logically, it would appear that there is a complimentary relationship between the job functions and the sequence of events in an investigation. But in real life, the day to day interactions between the two professions are minimal, strained or non-existent.

The private sector is composed of a vast variety of individuals, disproving the common misconception that all private investigators are former police. While many of our staff have police experience (sworn and civilian), as well as military experience there are some that began their careers in the private sector. Potentially, that may provide one reason for the disconnect with the professions, the private sector’s superficial lack of homogeneity.
Another reason for the dissonance may come from the imagery that is assigned to private investigators through the media and pop culture. Unfortunately, subpar investigators are given the limelight for their poor decision making and illegal investigation methods. This in turn makes it appear that private investigators are lacking accountability and are not to be trusted.  On the flip side, a private investigator’s ability to solve a case before the police is bad PR for a police department, further discouraging them from working alongside us.

The question now is – how can we improve these relationships for the future of policing and the private sector? The benefit of a mutual relationship has to be realized by both parties. Here are some examples of what that relationship can look like:

–         Police departments can use the advantage of multi-jurisdictional reach that PIs possess.

–         Underfunded and understaffed departments can benefit by working alongside PIs that are hired by external entities to work the same case, perhaps bringing a different perspective or new leads.

–         PIs can also help with internal affairs in the police department such as internal investigations and background checks, items that will tie up officers and staff that could otherwise be utilized better elsewhere.

–         PIs can use the aid of police when conducting surveillance and field operations in criminal cases, providing a safety net for particularly dangerous case situations.

–         Rapport with local departments can provide police perspectives on cases that PIs often work, such as auto accidents.

Considering each other as a resource, rather than a hindrance, will lessen the parallelism of our careers and accomplish more in the end game.