Investigate Your “Investigator”

Posted - October 23, 2018

I have written previously on how to select investigators and what to look for before retaining an investigator. At that time my goal was to help people find the best person for the investigative work they require. However, over the past year I have observed a flood in the market of people holding themselves out as investigators, who have no licence, no insurance, and no experience or credentials to be conducting many of the investigations they claim they can do.

Aside from being properly licensed and insured[1], which is the most basic requirement that should be satisfied, it is crucial to determine if the person you are considering has the requisite knowledge, and experience to conduct an investigation that will stand up to the inevitable scrutiny it will receive. Being a licensed private investigator, former police officer, mediator, lawyer, or paralegal, does not mean a person is qualified and competent to conduct every kind of investigation, or for that matter, any investigation. There is an old saying that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. This was demonstrated recently by the United States Senate, while conducting their confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

There is no “one size fits all” in this business, and those who suggest otherwise are irresponsible in doing so. I have observed and taken over investigations from people within all of the above-mentioned professions[2] and had to clean up the mess they have created. There are many examples from various human rights tribunals, and the courts of poorly managed investigations, where the conduct ranges from incompetence to misconduct. This can be costly to all involved and we owe it to complainants, respondents, employers, and the public to ensure a high degree of competency is brought to the investigative stage of these matters. It is crucial that investigators conducting any investigation have the knowledge, skill, and judgement to perform that investigation.

Here are the key things to do when considering who you will retain to conduct an investigation:

  1. Check with the licensing body in your jurisdiction to ensure the investigator is licensed and they are affiliated with an agency, which is also properly licensed. To locate the regulatory authority in your jurisdiction, try an internet search using the terms “private investigator license” and the name of your province or state. Remember they may not need to be licensed if they meet the conditions that exempt them from licensure. To find out if this is the case in your jurisdiction check with licensing body.
  2. Question prospective investigators on their experience in the type of investigative work you need. Consider asking them to provide anonymized case examples of work they have done, as well as references. Ask to see the resume of the investigator assigned to do your work. Do they have a relevant investigative background? Remember, the investigator should have a thorough working knowledge of any applicable legislation and its application.
  3. Require the person or agency you are considering, to provide proof of adequate insurance that will cover them in relation to the provision of investigative services. For example, a mediator who carries insurance for errors and omissions or failure to perform may only have coverage for mediation services. There are specific policies and / or provisions that must be included to have coverage for investigation services (one of which is licensure or the equivalent). Should there be an issue where the investigator is accused of costly mistakes or inappropriate conduct, you will want the reassurance that the investigator has coverage so it does not all fall entirely to your organization.
  4. Be wary of agencies or individual investigators who claim to do it all. Such claims are typically not accurate. People who make such claims are rarely good at everything, and typically expert at nothing. Many areas of investigation require a working knowledge of applicable legislation, case law, and procedural insight, so be certain anyone you hire has that knowledge.
  5. If you are considering dealing with an investigation agency, ask if their investigators are employees or sub-contractors. Watch out for descriptors that suggest an agency has a “roster of investigators.” Many agencies like to promote that they have a large number of investigators. However, this could mean their investigators are private contractors and the agency may not have as much knowledge as they should about the investigator’s competence or quality of work, particularly in specialized areas of investigation.
  6. Some investigation firms will advertise multiple offices over a wide geographic area. In some cases these are post office boxes or “virtual offices” in key centres to give the perception of a big operation. Always confirm with a prospective agency where they are physically located and how you will be charged for travel expenses.
  7. Don’t be fooled by acronyms like SIU (Special Investigations Unit). Window dressing like this suggests something special or some level of heightened expertise that may not be true. In the end an investigative agency either does proper, well informed, and expert investigations in the area you require…or they don’t.

Following the steps above will help protect you from hiring unlicensed or unqualified investigators and ensure you hire an investigator with expertise and competency in the area you require.

[1] In most jurisdictions it is a requirement to be properly licensed including individually and as an agency to practice and sell the services of investigations. There are a few exceptions in some jurisdictions that allow unlicensed people who are members of other professions such as Lawyers, and Human Resources Professionals to practice as investigators. It is important to check the legislation in your jurisdiction to determine what applies.

[2] There are some very qualified people within these professions, but they are people who have devoted time to acquiring the knowledge and skill within their areas of focus.

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