Jim Rockford. Thomas Magnum. Philip Marlowe. Each of these fictional private investigators has helped to ingrain numerous myths about private investigators in the eyes of the public. Yet, clients are often disappointed to learn that their case is more like an episode of Colombo with the drudgery of following the leads, doing hours of surveillance, and conducting interviews and interrogations rather than driving up in a red Ferrari and having a helicopter in your back pocket like Magnum, P.I.
Popular culture has done plenty to promote private investigators as arbiters of good that work to uncover the truth for their clients. Every year, there is a series where a private investigator uses their wits, fancy gadgets, and inside sources with law enforcement to help their client in the course of the hour-long episode where the culprit is caught or the husband is proved guilty of cheating on his wife.
I’m a fan of the current remake of “Hawaii Five-O,” a procedural drama set on the beautiful islands of Hawaii. I enjoy seeing the landscape where they film the series, but what I always end up asking my IT guys is why we can’t have a huge holographic database that aides the team with recent, full color photos and up-to-the-minute data on their whereabouts. I’m still disappointed that the level of technology depicted is only fictional.
My agency does have our own in-house computer system, 888USUNITE, although it doesn’t have the same bells and whistles people have come to expect from television and film. We have developed it over the years and it’s the world’s largest database of public information.
Television and film have also created more myths about private investigators: namely the amount of time it takes to properly investigate a case. Oftentimes, you’ll see a show like CSI:Miami where they are able to deduce and solve a case in the span of a couple of hours. I have had clients ask why it might take my investigators upwards of 10 to 12 hours what only took the guys on TV 15 minutes at most.
Television also isn’t interested in the time investigators spend conducting surveillance. Often you’ll see the actors sitting in a car exchanging clever banter only to catch the perp in the act after a short time. It never shows the hundreds of hours of surveillance with two guys watching the subject around the clock. Surveillance is always very tedious and mundane, but a necessary part of the profession.
In this day and age with the Internet, most of our clients are fairly sophisticated when they contact a private investigator. They have a specific task in mind that they want to do and are fairly realistic in what the rules and regulations are. A good private investigator should help to educate their client, whether a housewife, chief executive, or attorney on what a PI can and can’t do, regardless of what they have seen on TV.
Do you have any questions about the difference between what a fictional private investigator can do and a real one? I would be happy to address why you won’t be seeing what we do on television anytime soon.