The world of the private investigator has evolved from a very simple to a very complex business. In our early history, the private investigator primarily operated like a law enforcement officer but was employed by an individual or corporate entity. The basic qualifications of the private investigator were being able to find people who may or may not have committed a crime and, when the circumstances required, being able to shoot first and accurately. There were no legal restrictions on the activities of the private investigator, and in some cases, their activities were clearly criminal violations of law.

When the possibility of being a viable business opportunity became apparent, individuals put together business ventures advertising their skills, resources, and abilities to operate in numerous geographical areas. In 1850, Allan Pinkerton established what is purported to be the first nationwide detective agency in the United States. Originally known as the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, it later became known solely as Pinkertons. Pinkerton became famous when he foiled a plot to assassinate President-elect Abraham Lincoln, who later hired Pinkerton agents for his personal security during the Civil War. At its height, Pinkerton employed more agents than there were members of the standing army of the United States, causing the state of Ohio to outlaw the agency due to fears it could be hired out as a private army or militia.

Through evolution, private investigation companies proliferated and engaged in many diverse activities. Some companies involved in strikebreaking and protection of corporate interests freely used deadly force to obtain their objectives. These private security guards and investigators were responsible for many deaths. These forces also engaged in the apprehension of wanted persons, as well as the protection of valuable shipments of gold, silver and other valuable commodities. Because of conflicts with labor unions, private security guards and investigators continue to be associated by labor organizers and union members with strikebreaking.

The actions of the original private investigators were not without an influence on our current-day law enforcement and investigative operations. In 1871, Congress appropriated $50,000 to the new Department of Justice (DOJ) to form a suburbanization devoted to “the detection and prosecution of those guilty of violating federal law.”

The successes as well as the problems of earlier private investigators have had a significant influence on the modern-day private investigators. Most state governments have instituted legal requirements for private investigators, among which is minimum experience, and insurance and educational requirements. These actions were undertaken to protect members of the public. Current and pending legislation will also have an impact on what can be accomplished by the private investigator.

These restrictions are a result of the outcry for personal privacy and the inappropriate and highly publicized criminal activities of a small number of private investigators.
The role of the current private investigator primarily encompasses those areas that are not criminal in nature or are of sole interest to the business community, such as internal matters and civil litigation.

The private investigator whose business is primarily based on obtaining personal information will find ever-increasing difficulty in obtaining the desired information. Now is the time to reevaluate business opportunities and identify goals for the future. At this point, the individual is no longer just a private investigator but a businessperson who provides investigative services.

The emphasis is on “business.”

Private Investigation As A Second Career

William F. Blake

Individuals entering the private investigation career field come from many different backgrounds. The vast majority comes from law enforcement agencies within the federal and local governments as well as the military services. The influx from the college environment has been greatly influenced by the proliferation of forensic science and investigative television shows. Each of these groups has unique advantages and disadvantages.

Experienced investigators, frequently retirees entering a second career either for additional financial resources or for the love of the business, normally have many years of investigative experience. Depending on the organization from which they retired, they may not have the appropriate management skills for business success.

Newcomers from the academic environment may have developed some theoretical skills but lack practical application of these skills. The private investigator may be involved in criminal investigations, corporate internal investigations, and litigation support. The private investigator probably does not have the financial and investigative support resources of the public agency or corporation. This will cause the private investigator to depend frequently on business associates in areas where the investigator does not have appropriate skills.

The philosophies of private investigation and law enforcement are different but also interrelated. Law enforcement investigators are primarily oriented to identifying someone who may have committed a criminal violation. They normally do not look into the cause of the problem or identify measures and strategies to prevent recurrence.

The goal of criminal action is to punish or rehabilitate depending on the court philosophy. Restitution is not normally a viable goal.

The goal of the private investigator is multi-purposed. It includes identifying the individual responsible for a criminal act or violation of corporate policies. It also includes identifying what precipitated the problem and what strategies can be employed to prevent recurrence.

Starting a private investigation business requires a comprehensive inspection of numerous personal and business skills. The actual process of starting a business will be discussed in more detail in our next session on this ProbitasReport column next week Friday. You can reach us directly on or , WhatsApp Only +234805 034 9740 for your Security And Private Investigator’s Q & A in Africa.

Compiled By
Ohio O. Ojeagbase, PhD
Certified Private Investigator, Enterprise Builder, Corporate Governance, Business Security Risk & Counter Fraud Expert
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