12 Ways to Be a Better Investigator in 2016

Think about it.

Think about it.

The Year in Sage Advice, from the 2015 PursuitMag Archive

We, the editors, dug through the archives and complied some of the savviest nuggets of wisdom shared in 2015 by our cadre of amazing experts. From report writing and surveillance to interviews and ethics, our veteran investigators have taught us a lot this past year — and if we’re wise, we’ll take those tips to heart in 2016.

We hope you enjoy!

1. Keep clients informed.

“Respond immediately to requests from clients,” writes Brian Willingham, a New York private investigator and owner of Diligentia Group. “Good, bad or indifferent, whatever news you have, give it to them and tell them that you will follow up quickly.”

2. Knock on doors.

“We have to hit the streets from time to time,” says Chris Borba, recalling his years as a patrol officer and police detective, “to locate missing persons, interview witnesses, serve subpoenas, and find information that exists in the streets, not online.”

3. When interviewing subjects, be a better listener.

“Let pauses stand,” writes our managing editor (me) in an article on interview techniques. If there’s an uncomfortable pause, do not interrupt it or try to fill it. Whatever he says next may be something you won’t want to miss.”

4. Volunteer your skills to help someone.

“Find a cold case in your area and get to work,” writes Virginia investigator Chris Borba, of Emissary Investigative Services. “It will consume your thoughts and keep you up at night. But maybe, in the end, it will all be worth it.”

5. Pick the right surveillance vehicle.

“Get a mom van,” writes Boston PI, Barry Maguire. “If you are a true surveillance operative, you will willingly surrender the joy of owning a ‘cool car’ for the joy of succeeding at surveillance.”

6. Have a code of ethics in writing.

“Codes are your friends, but it is a reciprocal friendship,” writes ethics researcher Kavin Macnish. “The more often people apply a code, the stronger that code becomes.”

7. Share the credit.

“I try to surround myself with good, competent, professional people,” writes Hal Humphreys, a Nashville PI and our executive editor. “And I strongly believe that when we share our opportunities and successes, we all benefit.”

8. Value what you do, and charge accordingly.

“We have to decide that we’re worth more before we can convince the client of the same,” writes Amy Lynn Burch in her piece on the perils of offering deep discounts to clients. “To earn clients’ long-term loyalty, we need to offer a great service for a fair price.”

9. Write better reports.

“Look for holes not only in your sentence structure, but in your logic,” writes Barry Maguire of New England Risk Management Investigations. “Be clear, precise and direct.” 

10. Educate clients about PI ethics.

“Don’t ask me to break the law,” Dallas investigator Keith Owens tells first-time clients. “If I do, any evidence I gather becomes inadmissible. And that does you no good whatsoever.”

11. On surveillance, look like you belong.

“Visualize how you might look from the other side looking out on your surveillance vehicle,” writes Steve Koenig, a Nebraska investigator. “The trick is not to be invisible. The trick is to be unremarkable.”

12. Remain calm when others are not.

“Challenge yourself to stay cool; use your powers of persuasion to calm the screaming person and convince them to help you,” writes Chris Borba in a piece on handling difficult people. “That’s what a true professional does.”