If you've worked with a private investigator before, you're probably pretty knowledgeable on the role and limits of a PI. For those who have never worked with a private investigator, it's important to know the difference between a detective and an investigator. Often, private investigators have previous experience in law enforcement, but that doesn't mean they can do all of the same things. PI's largely focus on personal, legal, financial, and other related matters. While they are sometimes employed by law enforcement, that doesn't mean that they are law enforcement.
The first difference between private investigators and law enforcement is the type of cases they work. If a detective is investigating someone, it's likely related to a crime the subject may or may not have committed. However, private investigators focus primarily on civic matters. This could include running surveillance on a spouse that is suspected of cheating or may even be for criminal defense purposes.
Law enforcement does a great deal of investigating, but their motivation is typically centered around solving a crime. The majority of the information they find can and will be used to prosecute the point of interest. If there isn't a suspected crime, they have no reason to investigate. However, the primary purpose of a PI is to collect information and hand it over to their client. Once the client receives the information, they can choose to use it in any way they feel necessary as long as it is not used illegally or for harassment purposes. A PI may gather information against a cheating spouse, for criminal or internal investigations, or even for insurance fraud, but they are not in charge of prosecution or decision making.
The difference between what private investigators and law enforcement can do ties in with their motivation. Law enforcement can arrest an individual if they are caught participating in illegal activity. Private investigators do not have the legal authority to arrest anyone for any reason. However, the information gathered can certainly be used in a case if needed.
Simply put, law enforcement works for the state. Private investigators, on the other hand, work for whoever wants to hire them. This could be an individual, a lawyer, law enforcement, a company, or anyone who finds themselves needing to gather information on an individual.
Law enforcement officers have constitutional procedures they must follow and since they are employed by the state, these rules have little to no flexibility. Though private investigators must follow the law, they don't have to follow the same strict procedures as law enforcement. This can sometimes make it easier to gather the necessary information. However, there are some private investigators who take short cuts and are unethical. For example, people are always asking if we can retrieve cell phone records or text messages off a cell phone. The answer is always no. The only way that can be done is with a court order, subpoena, or permission from the owner of the phone.
It's important to know who to call. Are you witnessing a crime? Call law enforcement! Are you wanting to gather information for child custody purposes? Call Southern Professional Investigations!