Most private investigators have law enforcement backgrounds, so they often learned their investigation techniques as police. Nonetheless, the job of a private investigator isn’t the same as that of a cop, so the police investigation procedures differ from private investigation procedures more than you may think.
Interrogation is an important part of police investigation procedures
Everybody knows this scene from TV and movies: The cops bring a suspect down to the station, stick him in an interrogation room and put him through the ringer. They play Good Cop, Bad Cop, try to catch the suspect in a lie and use other psychological techniques to try to elicit a confession. Finally the suspect breaks — or if he or she is the more savvy type — they clam up and ask for a lawyer. Even in real life, interrogation is an important part of the police investigation process and a confession can often make a case for the cops.
This isn’t the case for private investigators. They don’t have police powers, so they can’t detain people. You only have to talk to a private investigator if you want to, so more creativity is required to get information out of people.
Caseload affects police investigations
Because the police are responsible for investigating just about any crime that comes to their attention, they often have huge caseloads. Most police detectives work multiple cases at a time. This has a drastic effect on the police investigation process because the police simply aren’t able to devote their full time and attention to a single case. On the other hand, private investigators have a limited number of clients and only take the cases that they want to. As a result, they can devote their full time and attention to a single case until its conclusion, even if this means weeks or longer of surveillance and investigation on a single case.
The police investigation process is limited by budget
In addition to their high caseload, the police also have a limited budget. Tax dollars pay cops’ salaries and there’s only so much to go around. This means that police may not be able to do certain things that are out of their budget, such as use the most top-of-the-line equipment. They may not even be able to conduct 24-hour surveillance if the overtime isn’t in the police department’s budget. Of course, how tight money is depends on which law enforcement agency you’re talking about. The FBI has a lot more money than a small police force in a small rural town, but even large police forces like the NYPD have budget constraints.
Private investigators are only limited by what their clients are willing to pay. Large corporations, law firms and wealthy individuals can pay for a whole team of investigators to conduct constant surveillance for as long as they need to to get the job done.
These are just a few of the ways that the police investigation process differs from the private one. The jobs of a cop and a private investigator are different in more ways than you can count, from the kinds of jobs they do, to what they can do, to the fact that the police can acquire warrants. This is just a glimpse into a few of those many differences.