Don’t Believe Everything You See On TV: Limitations Of Private Investigations

September 10, 2018
Axis Geffen

Article written by Axis Geffen

We all carry preconceived opinions about people, and while some of these opinions are based on past experiences, many of them come from external influences like television or movies. Private investigators are not always happy about how they are portrayed on the big or small screen; I can’t say that everything you know about detectives is wrong, but a lot of what they do in movies is simply not possible in real life, some of it is illegal, and some of it can get a client and their P.I. into serious trouble.

The Stakeout 

Do you recall seeing a crazy car chase, or a vehicle that parks across the road from the house being watched for days and days? It happens. However, it is very rare. More often than not, surveillance is conducted at great distance to ensure that neither the subject nor the subject’s neighbours are aware that an investigation is taking place. Some P.I.s have very sophisticated gadgets and high zoom equipment which allows them to have a safe and clear view of what is happening.

Night Vision 

A picture says a thousand words – but videos are more likely to win cases. It is very rare to find any investigator using a still camera in surveillance anymore. That being said, capturing video at night is very difficult, even though the technology has evolved. Cameras are very small now (some actually fit in key chains or pens) and they are very high resolution, but few are reliable in the dark. When you see a perfect night video being replayed on a television show, what you don’t see are the lighting crews that were working tirelessly to make that image perfect. In fact, sometimes those images are shot in the day and filtered to look dark.

Armed and Dangerous

Lots of shows will depict a P.I. who has a gun with them at all times. That is mostly false too. It isn’t smart or always legal to have a weapon on you, and most P.I.s know that it’s just safer not to be armed.  There is no weapon more powerful than your brain, and if you are paying somebody to get you answers, you really should be choosing someone that knows how to think fast and talk their way in or out of any situation.

The Data Queen 

Every professional research investigator’s nightmare is the myth about the geeky looking female that chews gum and has bobble-heads all over her desk. You know, she’s the woman that the team calls when they’re stuck without information. She types three things into the computer and can see everything the subject has ever bought or done in their life. Even in the highest profile investigation centres, this is impossible. The truth is that there are teams of very qualified and very specialized investigators that can access large amounts of information, but it doesn’t happen quickly in most cases.

Scaling Trees 

Ever see a movie where the P.I. climbs a tree and gets images of the cheating spouse with their new partner through the upstairs window? Even for a P.I., that is a breach of the Privacy Act and if caught, there are serious penalties for the P.I. Charges could also be laid against the client. Does it happen? Yes. But know that it shouldn’t.

Who doesn’t enjoy a good crime/mystery series? They are wonderful forms of entertainment, but much of what you see is based off of fiction. Please remember that in the real world, nothing is ever as simple as it is on television, and those 1/2 hour shows usually span days, weeks or months in reality. More importantly, don’t judge an investigator based on expensive technology, the size of their organization or the “coolness” of what they do. Make sure they are able to find the answers that you need.