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Private Investigation Blog

Private Investigators: TV vs Reality

Everyone loves a good detective story; exciting thrills, danger, mystery, witty repertoire, and of course, the feeling of satisfaction as the perpetrator is finally cuffed and sent off to prison, and life returns to normal. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s investigative mastermind Sherlock Holmes was introduced to television in 1954, jumpstarting a huge boom of private investigator movies and TV shows which continues to this day as shows such as CSI, and the BBC’s Sherlock. But how much of what happens on television really occurs in real life?

Private Investigator and Law Enforcement -- The Truth

It is well-known that Hollywood spices up real life events to make them more sensational. This is also true for private investigator television shows. On TV, many PIs are depicted doing things that actual PIs do not, or cannot do, and often exaggerates the actions a PI would take to accomplish a goal to make it more interesting. The truth is just as interesting, but private investigators must operate within local and federal law.

A private investigator is just that, private. They are not associated with any kind of law enforcement agency, such as the FBI, or the local police. They operate independently, for clients who come directly to them for help. Private investigators do, however, sometimes work with the police. Because they are not law enforcement officers, private investigators cannot impersonate a peace officer or wear any sort of badge or uniform that may make it easy for a civilian to mistake them for a law enforcement officer.

What Private Investigators Really Do

The most sensational changes in the actions of private investigators in movies and TV are to the actions they take while investigating. While it is true that private investigators are licensed to use telephone wire tapping, surveillance cameras, and recording devices, they cannot use any of these things without at least one party’s consent. An investigator can tap the phones of the client to record any conversations with the offending party, but cannot tap the phones of the offending party without their knowledge.

Another scene that is often depicted in crime dramas and investigator shows is the investigator entering someone’s home or property without permission, usually at night, and installing cameras, recording devices, and/or phone taps. This is inaccurate for both the reason that a PI cannot install surveillance equipment without the owner’s permission and because trespassing is illegal. Trespassing laws vary from state to state, and even from city to city, but most jurisdictions require permission from the owner to enter a home or search a property. A private investigator also cannot tamper with, open, or destroy another person’s mail, as this is a federal offence.

Many people believe that private investigators have the same powers of arrest and investigation as the law enforcement agencies. This is untrue. A private investigator cannot make a legal arrest. Some states allow private investigators to perform specific arrests under certain circumstances.

Don't Believe Everything You See on TV

While movies and tv shows about private investigators are fun, interesting, and can be informative to the general idea of how law and investigating works, it is important to take everything you see on TV with a grain of salt. Stories are sensationalized to be more exciting and engaging, and sometimes facts are skewed and characters do things that couldn’t do in reality. Take the time to learn about the real men and women who bear the title private investigator, and how they help citizens learn the truth every day.

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Let Us Balance the Scales of Justice for You

Call today for immediate professional investigations.

Houston Investigations:
(713) 956-1111

Toll Free:
1 (800) 820-7006

Texas Association of Licensed Investigators TALI Member Logo

License #: A10227

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35657 Mayer Rd, Hempstead, TX 77445