October 9, 2021

By Marc A. Garza, P.I.

            Over the years, I have been asked, “What do you do for a living?” When I respond with, “I’m a Private Investigator.” I usually get two responses. Either I get, “You stalk people for a living?” or “Oh, you’re in the bushes looking for cheater’s right?”

           I know the public get their perceptions from what they see in the movies or TV shows like "Magnum PI", but that’s not reality of course………….I don’t drive a red Ferrari, I don’t get into shootouts or car chases, I don’t arrest people and law enforcement DOES NOT give me information. Most of us work “under the radar”, so to speak.  The reality is I spend much of my time in my office in front of a computer or on the phone with clients;  or obtaining intelligence for our field and surveillance operations. Also, I educate potential clients in the proper use of a private investigator, as well as pointing out legal obstacles in their investigative requests. Sometimes I have to tell people, "No, thats illegal and you can go to prison." 


            Overall, attorneys and law firms use private investigators the most. Many domestic and civil litigation cases require evidence to corroborate or disprove allegations in lawsuits. Our job is to obtain actionable evidence for our clients in an impartial and ethical manner. Some legal cases require more field work than others, such as surveillance; or to locate and obtain witness statements. For example, surveillance is a good tool to obtain evidence in a child welfare or visitation cases, when one party may be putting a minor child in danger while in their custody. I regularly receive calls from concerned parents that need evidence for their court case to show their child is in danger while they are visiting the other parent. It could be the other parent is driving while intoxicated with the child, doing drugs in the presence of the child, leaving the child by themselves or abusing the child. When evidence is submitted to court, many of these cases have favorable outcomes for the concerned parents.

            Private clients may need the services of a private investigator to conduct pre-employment checks, locate biological parents of adoptees, find missing persons or conduct identity theft investigations. People facing identity theft issues, find that working with law enforcement is difficult. Most police agencies, don't have the staffing to properly conduct these types of investigations, mostly because theft crimes are considered low-level crimes and are not crimes of violence.  PI's can assist in collecting evidence for a client to give to law enforcement for possible prosecution. 


            Like many professions, most private investigators specialize in a certain area based on their backgrounds or interests. Private investigators come from diverse backgrounds such as law enforcement, journalism, research, legal services, and insurance. For example, as a retired law enforcement officer, I have had success in conducting legal and criminal defense investigations because I have experience testifying in court, obtaining evidence for felony level cases, conducting scene investigations, and interviewing witnesses. Someone that has experience in the insurance industry or has experience as an undercover officer, do well with Worker's Compensation Fraud investigations which require many hours of surveillance to show someone has “faked” an injury. Most private investigators can assist private clients with general background and criminal checks; locating people and surveillance. 

           California has stringent requirements to be a licensed private investigator. An applicant must go  through an application process, a criminal background check through the FBI, prove that they have over 6,000 hours of investigative experience and pass a multiple choice exam.  In addition, an applicant for a corporation or LLC must provide proof of liability insurance to conduct business. 


           Most people will never need the services of a private investigator, but if you require a professional to obtain evidence or information for your situation or legal case, a PI can be an invaluable person to call.