A version of this article first appeared on the New Hope Investigations blog.
Why I Do What I Do
He wasn’t quite 30 years old and was already a war veteran, a husband, and a father. He had struggled a bit, coming home to his sweetheart, finding a job, and integrating into civilian life. The birth of his son got him thinking about his own father, a man he had never met.
His birth father took off before he was born. All this young man knew of his father was a name and a bit of family information. He was warned that even if he could contact this man, he might not get the warm welcome he hoped for. But his mind was made up.
He knew he didn’t have the resources to track down his birth father without help, so he called me.
I found the man living in a northern state. Now in his 50s, he admitted to living a hard life and making many wrong decisions along the way. He eagerly agreed to a phone conversation with the son he had never met. The two have now spoken several times and have started planning a future trip they will take—together.
This story and others like it are why I can’t think of a more satisfying career than the one I’ve chosen. To play even the smallest role in such a story is reason enough for me to sit down at my computer every morning and start digging into the next case, finding answers for my next client.
However, there are a few things that I find disappointing, and even frustrating, about this industry.
What I Don’t Like About My Job
1. Our Shady Reputation
Unfortunately, there’s a popular stereotype about private investigators: that we are a sneaky, ethically-challenged, heavy-handed lot of unprofessional ex-law enforcement types who are willing to break the law when it suits us.
Many people seem to believe this. I couldn’t believe the reaction I got from some of my own family and friends when I told them I was becoming a licensed private investigator. Their words said, “Wow. That’s really cool. How exciting! Need a partner?”
But their faces (or the painful pause before the words) said something else entirely: “Why are you downgrading from crime analyst to private investigator? Isn’t that dangerous? You’re not going to carry a gun now, are you? This just doesn’t sound like… well, you!”
I get it: Private investigators have a bad rap. In fact, Pursuit Magazine ran a fabulous podcast about our sketchy reputation a few years ago—you can find it here. It also doesn’t help when stories like this one hit the news and further reinforce a negative perception of private investigators.
I don’t like having to fight my way out of this label, but I sure as heck will for as long as it takes. I hate it for my profession, and I hate it because it’s generally not true. I have many private investigator colleagues who are some of the hardest working, most upstanding, smartest, above-board people I know. They do their jobs and they do them very well. (And in fact, the “unprofessional ex-law enforcement” stereotype is unfair as well. Plenty of former cops make excellent investigators.)
Take Mauricio Vianna of Seattle, Washington, for example: He’s a newcomer to private investigations but is already doing a bang-up job. His work is honest, calculated, thorough, and professional. He, too, is working hard to change the face of private investigations by consistently giving his clients positive experiences. He even has a well-designed website (which challenges another stereotype about PIs—that they are Luddites who reject current tech).
It’s going to take a lot of work for us to undo all these negative stereotypes, but I’m up for the challenge.
2. The Win-At-All-Costs Mindset
Some private investigators operate in a bubble, greedily elbowing out the “competition.”
It saddens me when other private investigators are close-lipped and completely disinterested in helping their colleagues. When I first set up shop, I approached a fellow investigator for help. He had been in the business a long time, and I respected him immensely.
He completely dismissed me. His condescension made me feel like a silly schoolgirl with grandiose notions about a profession I had no business sticking my nose into.
But I was determined, and I chose to dismiss his dismissal. I soon found others who welcomed me into the profession. They are now my closest confidants and colleagues. My respect has since shifted from the all-knowing to the all-helping investigator. My goal is to become both, with emphasis on the latter.
My respect has shifted from the all-knowing to the all-helping investigator.
Now I have the network I need: a terrific group of private investigator colleagues who are open and helpful, and who share ideas all the time. We spur each other onward. We root for each other. We rejoice in each other’s successes and encourage one another during setbacks. This is as it should be. Investigators who isolate themselves and alienate others do so to their detriment, and they probably won’t make it in this business long-term.
3. The Uselessness of Many PI Associations
I am disappointed in private investigator state associations as a whole. There are definitely some stellar organizations out there that do a great job with training, information output, industry news, and opportunities. But unfortunately, there are too many that seem to exist just for the sake of existing. They offer few or no training opportunities or industry news/helpful information. It’s easier to move a mountain than to get an email reply from some of them.
I would love to see this change. Many newer investigators, like me, are desperate to find quality training, helpful articles, worthwhile webinars, and information about updated laws and regulations for the private investigations industry. By providing information and mentoring, a great professional association could go a long way toward resolving issues #1 and #2—by helping new PIs avoid making predictable ethical and legal mistakes, working to police the bad actors among us, and offering a hand up to enthusiastic rookies who want to do things right.
This work is not for the faint-hearted. Running my own business has demanded more time, patience, and money than I thought it would. Who knew I’d have to tackle not only private investigations, but also accounting, marketing, entrepreneurship, public speaking, graphic design, web development, and client counseling, among other skills?
As is true of only the best things, this is turning out to be the most rewarding, enjoyable, and worthwhile endeavor of my professional life. I will continue to do my part to change the unflattering reputation of private investigations. I will always be known as an investigator who helps, shares, and is kind to my colleagues, especially the new ones. And I will continue to be a part of my industry’s associations, stepping in when I can to shape them into better resources for fellow investigators.
If we all start making these commitments, we’ll continue to develop our profession into a more attractive, welcoming, and supportive one. That should be the goal for all of us.
About the author:
Rachele’ Davis became a licensed private investigator in Missouri and Kansas in 2016, then launched her one-woman agency, New Hope Investigations. She specializes in locating and researching people through social media and open source investigations and has a personal interest in adoption searches.