The Ebb and Flow Across the Thin Blue Line: The Difference between Private and Public Sector Security and Investigations

Posted on July 10, 2012 by


Image: Sheer Investigations

by Pamela S.

You’re pushing your Dodge Grand Caravan 30 miles per hour over the speed limit. The subject of your investigation is crisscrossing lanes like a hare being chased by a greyhound. Coming up from the rear, a Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor, lights flashing, pulls you over. Your subject is a distant memory. The man in blue will be sitting in your seat when he retires from the police department, but right now he is holding all of the cards and a book of tickets.

That line that divides law enforcement from the general public also impacts the private security and investigation industry. Private investigators who have previously worked in law enforcement understand that we are two different species. Maybe so, but it appears that a hybrid is the future of security and investigations in our country.

Some police officers gain experience in the private sector before entering the force. Law enforcement personnel usually retire at 55 years of age and often choose private investigation as a second career.

Police are civil servants, and they are used to scrutiny. You don’t have to be a cop to know about internal affairs. The public and the media keep a close eye on those who serve and protect. Private investigators have the benefit of operating in a kind of grey zone, away from the bright lights. There are still a few states with no regulations or licensing requirements for private investigators, but we have become more conscientious about policing our own. That said, if a private investigator doesn’t respect the law, he or she will learn pretty quickly who has the power.

Ex-law enforcement transitioning to the private sector must learn to adapt to a certain amount of freedom and the responsibility that comes along with that. Both sides have legal and budgetary constraints. Our clients are corporations, insurance companies or individuals who expect to get what they pay for. We can’t use the same force, powers of interception or search and seizure. We don’t slap on the cuffs and interrogate, we cajole, we dig, and sometimes we call the police.

Our law enforcement agencies do a tremendous job, but sometimes their hands are tied. Carrying the full weight of the law slows you down. Police departments don’t have the financial resources or personnel to conduct in-depth investigations into every allegation or concern. We take some of the weight off their shoulders by investigating civil matters, insurance and financial fraud, employee malfeasance and a host of other issues that may eventually land on the desk of a police detective.

The Interweaving of Public and Private Police Undercover Work by Gary T. Marx provides some excellent examples of joint investigations where the public and private sectors have collaborated on some high-profile cases. Affiliation between police and private investigators is making that thin blue line even thinner.

Pamela is a recently retired private investigator and a writer of fiction and non fiction. She writes a blog for Florida private investigation agency Sheer Investigations.

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