A private investigator starting a career can easily begin with a small inventory of tools, such as a working vehicle, computer and a camera. Eventually, many investigators hone their expertise into one or more specialized fields of investigations, such as infidelity investigations, legal investigations or background checks. Investigators use different tools, depending on their specializations; for example, an infidelity investigator typically uses a variety of still and video cameras.
Probably the most important tool for a private investigator is a vehicle in good working condition. An investigator needs to travel easily and often quickly to interviews, courthouses and other research locations. Additionally, if a private investigator primarily conducts surveillance, the vehicle needs to be a neutral color, free of decals, bumper stickers and other identifiable items. It must also be comfortable, as the investigator might conduct lengthy surveillance sessions in it. Optional features include tinted windows and built-in camera tripods.
While conducting investigations outside of the office, an investigator often needs to contact his office, a client or other resource. Therefore, a critical tool for a private investigator is a cell phone. Because current-day cell phones typically produce high-caliber photographs, as well as provide easy, instant transmission of digital photos to computers and other devices, some private investigators rely heavily on their cell phones to take investigative photographs, rather than purchase stand-alone cameras.
Depending on the type of work a private investigator does, she might use one or more cameras. For example, a private investigator who specializes in undercover operations might purchase "button-hole" cameras, which are worn under the clothing, with the lens inserted through a shirt button hole, or other cameras built into hats and purses. An investigator who specializes in infidelity or insurance investigations typically has a variety of cameras, including video and night-vision cameras.
A computer is an imperative tool for a private investigator, as the Internet provides a wealth of research options for such investigative tasks as background research, locating people and asset checks. There are also proprietary databases, meaning databases that are not available to the public, that offer fee-based searches to private investigators, repossession businesses, bail bond agencies, collection attorneys and others. These databases, such as IRBsearch and Skip Smasher, access millions of public databases and other resources.
Global Positioning System (GPS)
In some investigative practices, a private investigator might use a global positioning system device to track a subject. These devices can be passive, meaning the data is recorded and later downloaded, or real-time, meaning location data is immediately viewable. It's imperative for an investigator to understand and comply with state and federal laws regarding the use of a GPS device to avoid charges of stalking, wiretapping or unlawful use of an electronic device.
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