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Hollywood Vs. Reality: How Hiring a Private Investigator Works

Private investigators are some of the most compelling characters in all of film and television. In Hollywood, private eyes calm, cool and collected, dressed in a trench coat and fedora, investigating crimes with a lit cigarette and a revolver. They let their fists do the talking and always get results, no matter the cost.

Ever since the golden age of cinema, Hollywood has portrayed Private Investigators as detectives that play by their own rules. While characters such as Sam Spade and Tracer Bullet are exciting, their portrayal is far from accurate. The real world doesn’t work like movies. There are procedures to follow, laws to obey, and rules that exist for a reason. A private detective isn’t just some renegade cop with a vendetta, they’re licensed private citizens hired to do a specific job. While a private detective can certainly get results, it’s important to understand what they can and cannot do, and separate reality from the mythologized private detective that Hollywood has created.

Myth: Private Investigators can do anything for a case
It’s a scene as old as time. The grizzled private eye picks the lock and scans the room, looking for that key piece of evidence. They rifle through filing cabinets, hack into the desktop, find what they’re looking for, then they’re gone without a trace. While fun to watch on screen, this is all extremely illegal. From trespassing and breaking and entering, to hacking into a private server and gathering evidence illegally, none of this would happen outside of a film script. In reality, private detectives follow the law. They can’t break into a corporate office or a home, just as they can’t impersonate an official or gather evidence under false pretext. They can’t harass a subject, bribe, hack, trespass or use any other deceitful method to obtain information. Not only are these actions illegal, they also void any potential evidence gathered through illicit means.

Myth: Private Investigators hurt people
It happens in every private detective movie. They’ve (illegally) obtained the information they need. As they make their escape, they’re caught by henchmen. Our hero has no choice but to shoot his way out, and does so in glorious fashion. However, this scene is an egregious misunderstanding of private investigators. They’re not action heroes, and they don’t hurt people. Private investigators are almost never armed, and in the very rare instance that they are, it’s legal and licensed. Private investigators never have to fight their way out of somewhere, because it was illegal to be there in the first place. A private detective gathers evidence through surveillance and perseverance, not threats and fistfights.

Myth: Private detective work is action-packed
The stakeout scene is a mainstay of any detective movie, but is missing a key factor – the waiting. Typically in any scene like this, the hero sees their target get to the meeting point in seconds, they do the deal, and that leads to the classic car chase. Unfortunately, the real world is far less exciting. Mostly, private detective work waiting around and researching. Surveillance and research is a huge part of private detective work, but it needs to be done legally and safely. A private detective can surveil in many ways when they are in a public space, but there are limits. They can’t take pictures through a window of a private residence, and they can’t record a conversation in which no party is aware of it. Likewise, they can’t tap a phone line without consent. Everything they do needs to be above board. Records need to be accessed legally and with consent, just like every other bit of evidence a private detective gathers. While not glamorous or action-packed, it’s a necessary part of being a real private investigator.

Fact: Private investigators are effective at discovering the truth
Hollywood has made the private detective into someone who is above the law, who will do anything for a case, but that just isn’t true. In reality, they’re bound by law just like everyone else. Their evidence must be gathered legally and safely, because it is exactly that– evidence. Anything obtained illegally will be thrown out in any court of law, and the case will become that much harder to win. And that’s a good thing. Private investigators can be immensely helpful in many different situations and cases, but it’s important to understand what they actually do, and not to brand them with the stereotypical cases and results of Hollywood. Whether you’re trying to track down an estranged family member, discover if a spouse is cheating, investigate cases of worker’s compensation fraud or infringements of child custody, they can be an invaluable resource. While they may not be action heroes, a good private investigator gets answers, safely and legally.

If you’re ready to turn your questions into answers, look no further than Seabolt Investigations when hiring a private investigator. We’re uniquely qualified to solve any case with previous law enforcement experience. Contact us or call now at (740) 541-0647.