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How does a private investigator solve cases? What tools do they use to analyze a situation, unravel mysteries, and hunt down perpetrators? A PI’s best tools may not be what you’d expect. Although virtually all PI’s use cameras and a few use guns, neither piece of technology make the top four on our list.

Time and Patience

A private investigator has an advantage no police detective can match, and that advantage is time. Police are bound to a chain of command that is intertwined with political careers, public image, and concerns about the general population. They simply cannot stick to every case until it is solved. In many cases, this is due to funding. The police only have limited funds to pay for all the manpower, equipment, and vehicles they use. Criminals don’t take a break just because another criminal is proving difficult to catch. Sometimes, to protect the majority, police have to leave cold cases unsolved.

Unlike a police detective, a private investigator is funded by the client. He or she can dedicate all working hours to a particular case without having to worry about what other people may be suffering due to their single-minded focus. This allows private investigators to be patient, too. They can wait for a suspect to make a mistake. Often, the ability to wait and watch is the most powerful tool in a PI’s arsenal.

Professional Connections

Although they are not the police, private investigators have access to far more connections than an ordinary citizen. They pick up connections during training, as they take on cases, and often utilize links from previous jobs. Many private investigators are former law enforcement officers. Even if they are not, the process of earning their certification often brings them into contact with local law enforcement. In some cases, the police use private investigators to augment their own forces when recruitment is down. Private investigators can follow suspects, interview witnesses, and do a lot of the time-intensive work that understaffed precincts simply cannot manage. These temporary arrangements and more casual interactions give private investigators an advantage. The police know them, trust them, and are often more willing to help when a known PI takes on a private case.

A little help from contacts goes a long way. A private investigator can pressure police to test old evidence far more efficiently than a client can on his or her own. Since private investigators are trained professionals, police are also less hesitant about allowing them to examine the evidence.

Contacts also provide information. Local contacts can tell a PI about any unusual activity in the area. Professional contacts may be able to offer unique services to assist an investigation. The more individuals and businesses a private investigator is in contact with, the more comprehensive his or her web of influence and information grows.

A Fresh Perspective

Getting a fresh pair of eyes to review a project is essential in many fields, and private investigators provide this service in investigations. It doesn’t matter if you hire a PI to examine a family concern or to solve a cold case murder; PI’s bring an outside perspective to the case. They can look at the evidence without being bound by memories and personal bias. Even police detectives develop a certain degree of bias when they’re working a case for an extended period. It’s natural to want a rude suspect to be guilty, or to hope the person who is down on his luck will catch a break. Private investigators can look at all the evidence like it’s brand new. It’s easier for them to be objective, and that is essential for solving cases.

A private investigator’s greatest tool grows with time, and that tool is experience. Private investigators learn from each case and see patterns in human behavior. They know the places runaways in a particular city are most likely to spend the night or linger during the day. After a number of cases, they understand the most common mistakes thieves and cheaters make. Experience is the difference between a talented investigator and a successful investigator. Private investigators rely on their training and their intuition to solve a case. The only way to hone intuition is through practice. The more cases that inform a PI’s intuition, the more accurate it will be. Although new investigators are perfectly capable of solving cases, investigators who have already worked a number of cases usually solve new problems faster.

A private investigator’s best tools are not items anyone can purchase. They come from training, hard work, and professional connections. New investigators do not have means as advanced as the experts simply because they haven’t had the experience more seasoned investigators do. If you plan to hire a private investigator, remember the real value of the service you’re hiring. A PI is far more than a telephoto lens.