Private Detectives: Local Investigators vs. National Firms

Within the private investigative profession there are a variety of different specialties, but in terms of the “general practitioners” of private investigations there are two very different approaches undertaken which ought to be differentiated. These are the licensed private investigator, who works independently – perhaps with one or two employees, retained in a capacity that doesn’t involve direct fieldwork or the gathering of evidence themselves – and then there is the investigative firm. The firm may cover a small variety of states within a given geographical region, or it may span the majority of the United States. Depending upon individual state laws wherein the firm operates, it may employ individually licensed investigators, or its personnel may operate under the auspices of the firm’s own license. Statutes and guidelines for the employment of investigative field personnel differ widely between states, with some largely rural and mid-western locations relaxing certain requirements that are otherwise quite common.


What Are The Essential Differences?

If you employ a locally based private investigator running his own firm, you will deal directly with the person conducting your investigation. This individual will typically have a quick response time, and will be able to devote special attention to your case. This is ideal if you need a child custody investigator. There could also be salary differences. If you work through a national firm, you will deal with a member of the firm’s administrative team – someone who serves as a point of contact between multiple clients and their agents in the field. Often, this will be someone at a central location, whose various clients and field investigators will be scattered around the country. A national firm can bring considerable resources to bear in dealing with a case, but they will likewise have many cases concurring at any given time.

Pros and Cons of Working With a Local Investigator

There are a variety of advantages to working with a local investigator, as opposed to a national firm.

Familiarity: when working with a locally-based private investigator, you have the benefit of selecting someone who is familiar with the general area and culture of the location in which he will be operating. This offers a number of side-benefits as well: he will have some understanding of the traffic patterns in his area, as well as of what types and styles of vehicle are common – he will most likely already have a surveillance car that is suited to the area.

Special attention: having secured the services of a private investigator, you will most likely enjoy his exclusive attention for the duration of your case. A specific private investigator will not take on a large number of cases at once; often, the demands of being on a stakeout will necessitate working one case at a time. You will be able to reach him promptly, and will have the benefits of working directly with the person who is gathering and processing evidence related to your case.

There are, also, certain drawbacks to working with a locally based investigator.

Availability: the fact that you will have the exclusive attention of a private investigator once you have hired them doesn’t really help you if someone else is enjoying that exclusive attention now. You may be unable to find someone with a reputation that you can verify, based upon existing customer testimony and online reviews, within the time period that you need somebody to cover.

Lack of resources: while this may or may not be a problem for you given the particular needs of your case, the fact remains that a local private investigator is often incapable of bringing to bear the resources that can be mustered by a national firm. A firm which employs individual investigators as a resource, for instance, would be able to send multiple investigative professionals out into the field in pursuit of your case, if need be.

Confinement: a private investigator may only work one location at a time, and will only operate within a certain geographical region. They will venture only a certain distance from their base of operations, can only meet the needs of so many hours in the day, and cannot carry out multiple simultaneous surveillance operations.

Pros and Cons of Working with a National Firm

As is the case with individual professional private investigators, national firms offer their own particular advantages. Usually, these correspond with the disadvantages of the locally-based private investigator.

Large-scale operating area: if your case involves multiple locations in need of surveillance, or multiple individuals or areas across a broad geographical region requiring attention, the national firm is the obvious choice of preference. They can send out multiple field professionals to work your case for you on an as-needed basis.

Resources: Large regional or national firms have multiple professionals in the field, not to mention locally-based agents across the country with whom they subcontract. They have more resources to bring to bear on an investigation.

Availability: A national firm is far more likely to have someone available to cover a field assignment than a given individual investigator is likely to be, himself, available at any particular given time. Individual private investigators rely upon consistent work, and pursue new clients aggressively when work is scarce.

Corresponding to the advantages posed by working with a locally based private investigator, a nationally-based private investigations firm offers its own drawbacks as well.

Lack of familiarity: You will be dealing with an administrative staff member who likely has no familiarity with the area in which the investigator is operating. Given that one of the major reasons for going to a national firm involves the need for activity in a distant location, you yourself may likewise be unfamiliar with the area. You will most likely not have specific contact with the individual you are paying to conduct the necessary investigations; they themselves may or may not be accustomed to operating in the area concerned.

No special attention: A regional or national firm will be servicing multiple clients – sometimes dozens, or even hundreds, at any given time. They will have many people out in the field, reporting in to a single central office location. You will be able to find services through such a firm quickly, and reliably, but there will be no special attention, no sense of exclusivity and the particular attention to detail that such entails, afforded to your case.