Saturday, September 01, 2007

Private Investigator Jon Hargrove

Today we’re lucky enough to have Jon Hargrove as a guest blogger. He’s a licensed Private Investigator in the State of California and in addition to being a kick butt P.I., Jon has also written numerous mystery/adventure books. You can check out his latest book, Ararat, about the search for Noah’s Ark, here, and he’s currently shopping a football themed mystery series. And all of his books feature characters who are – what else? – private investigators.
Jon’s agreed to answer some question throughout the day, so feel free to ask away. (Warning: He’s a bit of a flirt, ladies, so watch out!)

Gemma: Thanks for coming to chat with us on Killer Fiction, Jon. Can you tell us a little about how you became a private investigator?

Jon: In the state of California you can apply for a private investigator's license if you meet one of the following criteria: 1) Three years of military police experience 2) Three years of civilian police experience 3) Three years apprenticing with a licensed private investigator 4) A four year degree in criminal justice (plus two years apprenticing with a P.I.) 5) Three years claims investigation experience. I came into private investigations (California license no.: 24885) under the fifth category: I had over nine years of auto claims experience.

G: What are some of the main difference in what a private investigator can do versus a police detective?

J: Good question. One of the reasons so many private eyes are ex-cops is because a lot of the work is similar. In fact, all investigative work is the same, be it police investigations, private investigations or claims investigations. The goal in any investigation is to gather enough evidence to make a strong enough case to stand up in any court of law. Private detectives ask the same questions police detectives ask. But remember, the same people who are nervous around a police investigator might be more talkative around a private eye. To answer your question, the police have more resources than a private dick: more access to records and criminal records and access even to FBI networks. However, police detectives have less time and are often overworked (okay always overworked). Which is why you will often hear about a private investigator being hired to look into cases concurrent with the police. Why? Private investigators can devote much more time to individual cases. Hey, remember the Wendy's chili/finger incident? Wendy's ultimately hired a slew of private eyes to get to the bottom of that mystery, and it was a P.I. who broke that case.

G: Cool, I didn’t know that! Okay, as a writer yourself I have to ask - are there any common mistakes you've seen writers make when depicting P.I.'s in their books?

J: Oh yeah. Most books have P.I.'s working out of their cars. I actually fell into that same trap with my first novel. It's just not very sexy having your P.I. driving around in a clunky nondescript van. And, as you may or may not know, I'm all about sexy. Moving on...in modern private eye novels the police often give the private investigator way more respect than they get in real life. In real life, we are a serious nuisance to cops. We get in their way, question everything they do and often make them look bad when we find something they overlooked. Oh, and the reality of the private eye business is that the majority of our work is done through the internet, with only a handful of field jobs a week. The fun cases are few and far between. And often the field work consists of following cheating spouses.

G: I'm sure you've seen a lot of strange stuff working as P.I. in Los Angeles. Care to share any stories with us?

J: Every now and then something interesting does cross your desk. Last year I was hired to investigate a string of thefts at a furniture warehouse in L.A. The trouble was, nearly every worker seemed to be involved in the theft ring. In the end, I was unable to provide a satisfactory report to help the owners. Last I heard, they shut everything down and moved to another state. Probably a good idea. Recently, a woman thought her phone calls were being bugged by her boyfriend. She was right, I found the phone tapping equipment outside. I was once following a cheating wife (yes, wifes cheat too!), and she tagged me. I hate when that happens. She pulled off the freeway and into a parking lot where she was waiting for me. As I pulled in, looking for her, she came running from around a corner spitting furious, demanding to know if her husband had hired. PI's never, ever admit to being hired by a spouse if we are caught following. So I told her I had no idea what she was talking about and I got the hell out of there. I called the husband that night and ended the assignment. A tagged P.I. is not a good thing.

Final P.I. facts: the only three things that a private investigator can do that a private citizen can't are these: 1) Access proprietary personal databases 2) Photograph someone without their permission 3) Follow someone without their permission. Yes, P.I.'s can legally stalk!

Nice talking with you. Hope this helps!

40 comments:

Jennifer McK said...

OMG! You've already pointed out something I had wrong!
I have a question. What is the procedure when a P.I. becomes part of the story. Meaning, they're a suspect. (In Real Life, not Hollywood).
The usual plot is the P.I. investigates to clear himself. Do you think that's reasonable or bull pucky?

Keri Ford said...

Oh, Jon, you are a flirt!

Do you have any recommened How To Be P.I. books? What about shows or movies that you've seen that follow P.I. protocol?

Thanks for the great info.

Mendy said...

You mentioned common mistakes made about P.I.'s in the interview. What I would like to know is if there are any prevelant mistakes in books or TV/film that drive you crazy? Is there just some quirk or habit or action that seems to happen all too often that you think furthers our misconceptions about P.I.'s?

And now I'm on my way to figure out the best way to get Unfinished Business for my husband as he LOVES to watch football and read mysteries so what could be a better mix for a book for him?!? :O)

Thank you!
Mendy

Tori Lennox said...

What a great post! I've got to save this information. :)

And Ararat sounds like great fun!

Meretta said...

Thanks for sharing with us, Jon.

I know you mentioned that the majority of your work is computer related, but if you were doing field work and your subject moved across able to continue investigating in that other state? Or even, another country?

Estella said...

What interesting information. Will have to see about getting Ararat.

jonhargrove said...

OMG! You've already pointed out something I had wrong!

**Hey, that's what I'm here for. To help you, and to look good doing it.

I have a question. What is the procedure when a P.I. becomes part of the story. Meaning, they're a suspect. (In Real Life, not Hollywood). The usual plot is the P.I. investigates to clear himself. Do you think that's reasonable or bull pucky?

**Luckily, in the world of fiction anything is possible, right? I don't work murder cases, but I have a friend who specializes in them. In fact, he worked for Johnny Cochran to help clear O.J.! No joke. Okay, I can guarantee you this much: if I somehow became a suspect in a case I was working out, you can bet your tushy that I would work my own tushy off to clear my name. P.I.'s can find themselves in a bit of trouble, though. This is true. A P.I. who's hired to clear a client's name (as is the case with my friend who currently works murder cases), might just come across the real killer in an investigation. Does this happen often? Depends on what sort of cases a P.I. chooses to handle. A P.I. who works with and around violent crimes can expect, well, the unexpected. (Okay, now let me see if this posts!)

jonhargrove said...

Oh, Jon, you are a flirt!

**Who, me? Never! Okay, maybe a little....

Do you have any recommened How To Be P.I. books?

**You know, there's a book out there that's no longer in print that you might want to take a look at, if you can find it (and a good P.I. in training should be able to track down a book, right?). It's called PRIVATE EYES, and it's a writer's guide to P.I.'s. During the course of some of my investigations, I use a book called THE INVESTIGATOR'S LITTLE BLACK BOOK which gives addresses and contact info to just about anything a P.I. might need.

What about shows or movies that you've seen that follow P.I. protocol?

**I don't watch TV drama, I'm sorry. And there really haven't been many P.I. movies out lately. Now, we all know how wrong it is to have Magnum P.I. driving around in his Ferrari, right? Right?

Thanks for the great info.

**You're welcome. ;)

jonhargrove said...

You mentioned common mistakes made about P.I.'s in the interview. What I would like to know is if there are any prevelant mistakes in books or TV/film that drive you crazy?

**Luckily, I am a very mellow, easygoing dude, with a killer smile. (God, I am a flirt!) Very little drives me crazy and I never take such mistakes personally. A very common mistake made in books is to not show P.I.'s working multiple cases. Hey, we need to make a buck. I might have to do some internet work for the first few hours (background checks for an employer, for instance), and then follow a cheating spouse in the afternoon, and then stay up late at night to see if I can catch a guy faking a workman's comp injury. That would be a common day for me. Oh, and P.I.'s often work crazy hours. All through the night on some cases, especially surveillance cases.

Is there just some quirk or habit or action that seems to happen all too often that you think furthers our misconceptions about P.I.'s?

**Hmm. You mean quirks found in novels? Or quirks that real P.I.'s have? A very accurate portrayal of a P.I. would be to reiterate that their days and weeks are filled with mundane cases, only to be punctuated every now and then by a very serious case.

And now I'm on my way to figure out the best way to get Unfinished Business for my husband as he LOVES to watch football and read mysteries so what could be a better mix for a book for him?!? :O)

**Whoohoo! I think he would like it. Sadly, the book is out of print now, but that shouldn't stop all my new P.I.'s-in-training, right?

Thank you!
Mendy

**You're very welcome.

jonhargrove said...

What a great post! I've got to save this information. :)

**I agree on both accounts. (Kidding.)

And Ararat sounds like great fun!

**Ah, it's a little book I wrote about the search for Noah's Ark. It was fun to write. I hope you enjoy it.

jonhargrove said...

Thanks for sharing with us, Jon.

**You are very welcome. :)

I know you mentioned that the majority of your work is computer related, but if you were doing field work and your subject moved across [the country?] able to continue investigating in that other state? Or even, another country?

**The answer is yes to both questions. A P.I. license temporarily tranfers from state to state, usually good for a month. A P.I. who moves permanently into a new state must get that state's license. So, yes, a P.I. can legally travel across states to follow up an investigation (as would be the case, for instance, if I was hired to find a runaway). As far as other countries...well, a P.I. had better check in with the local police. It would be up to them to allow an investigation into their country. If an investigator is given a green light, he or she can proceed as usual. If not, the investigator risks arrest.

jonhargrove said...

What interesting information. Will have to see about getting Ararat.

**Thank you, and thank you. :)

C. Ellis said...

Hello, Jon. Thank you for answering our questions.

I wanted to ask a couple of questions.

In one of my books (currently in edits), I have an ex-cop turned P.I. who was framed as a dirty cop. My question regards whether he could have gotten his P.I. license if charges were eventually dropped but he lost his job with the department?

My P.I. is based in Florida.

Also what inducements would it take for a cop turned P.I. to work for the mob? Just one case. Honest work and actually legit. A missing persons/runaway case? 50 large promised, 20 in advance. Sounds about right, or too cheap?

Thank you,
C.C.

p.s. Hey Gemma, wore my fedora for the occasion. :)

Maureen McGowan said...

This was very interesting. I have a PI in my latest WIP (minor character) and this will be very helpful.

One question: Can you give an example of the kind of proprietary personal databases PI's might have access to? I have the PI in my story helping to search for someone who disappeared years ago, resurfaced claiming to be someone else, and is known to have used different names. So they know what she looks like... but not what her name would be. I'd already figured it would be mostly an internet thing, but was wondering what other resources the PI might have.

Gemma Halliday said...

Hey, C.C.! It looks good on you. :)

~Gemma

Faye Hughes said...

Wait a minute. What's wrong with Magnum and his Ferrari?

*g*

Christie Craig said...

Hi Jon & Gemma,

Jon, thanks so much for joining us on Killer Fiction. Gemma, great job snagging him. Flirt or not, I've enjoyed all his posts.

Thanks...

Crime Scene Christie

R. Barri Flowers said...

Hello--getting tips from a real private eye can certainly give credibility to a fictional sleuth. I have had private investigators as protagonists in novels and enjoy developing the characters. I also like the fact that private detectives can operate in the shadowy world between legit and illegitimate while chasing the bad guys unlike official law enforcement, by and large.

Author R. Barri Flowers
STATE'S EVIDENCE (Dorchester, 2006)

www.rbarriflowers.com
http://crimespace.ning.com/profile/RBarri

Pauline said...

Hi Jon, nice to see you doing this. I have a question?
I want to find out information on a real murder case in England in 1990. I am in New Zealand. You may recognise this as I posted you what I wrote about this case as I was 'in the middle of it' (statements and finger prints). BUT I want to know more about what happened after I left the country and I've had no luck with the Internet.
This is probably well out of what you know but how can I find out more information of the murderers arrest and trial? I would like to write part 2 and I'm NOT good at finding information! Any ideas for me, Mr Investigator?

xox~Pauline

Babe King said...

Mega cool, and seems only fair that a PI would have a "killer" smile. :-)

My Q: I have a secretary for an all girl PI company- she's been working with them 7 yrs. If her boss asked her to stand in (using her as a decoy/pretend PI so the staff will stop looking for the real one) is it possible she could then "unofficially" take over the case? If the thing she's meant to be guarding gets stolen and she chases all over the place trying to get it back, I presume her actions would be criminal since she's not a real PI. ie stalking in following the subject, not having a license for her borrowed gun (though she has no bullets either,) B&E for searching a place. How would she stand about not bringing in the police on the theft for a few days. I presume that would be interfering with a federal???? case. This is set in NYC.

thanks

jonhargrove said...

Hello, Jon. Thank you for answering our questions.

**Well, it's been my pleasure.

I wanted to ask a couple of questions.

**Fire away....

In one of my books (currently in edits), I have an ex-cop turned P.I. who was framed as a dirty cop. My question regards whether he could have gotten his P.I. license if charges were eventually dropped but he lost his job with the department?

**I think you are okay. A P.I. cannot have a criminal record. Dropped charges don't apply, last I heard. Also, P.I.'s are heavily regulated by the state. Arrests, excessive client complaints, or proof that I used my license illegally could be cause to not only have it revoked, but for me to go to jail. I think your P.I. would need to have his name cleared of any mis-conduct to get a license.

My P.I. is based in Florida.

**Laws and regulations change state by state for private investigators.

Also what inducements would it take for a cop turned P.I. to work for the mob?

**Depends on what kind of work and if your character could justify it within his/her own moral framework.

Just one case. Honest work and actually legit. A missing persons/runaway case? 50 large promised, 20 in advance. Sounds about right, or too cheap?

**A P.I. who needs the work could easily justify taking on this case...ooh, but I sense things turn bad quickly for your P.I.! Am I right? Good angle.

Thank you,
C.C.

**You are welcome.

p.s. Hey Gemma, wore my fedora for the occasion. :)

**Now all you need is a magnifying glass and a pipe!

jonhargrove said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jonhargrove said...

Jon, thanks so much for joining us on Killer Fiction. Gemma, great job snagging him. Flirt or not, I've enjoyed all his posts.

**I like you.

Shel said...

Hi Jon! You are a timely guest blogger. The PI in my employ just quoted me 30 days to do a current employment search on someone whose name, address & social security number I possess. Does it really take that long?

On a separate note, I enjoyed Unfinished Business and love a good flirt!

Thanks!

jonhargrove said...

Hello--getting tips from a real private eye can certainly give credibility to a fictional sleuth.

**Which is one of the reasons why I became a private investigator: to really add verisimilitude.

I have had private investigators as protagonists in novels and enjoy developing the characters. I also like the fact that private detectives can operate in the shadowy world between legit and illegitimate while chasing the bad guys unlike official law enforcement, by and large.

**There are certainly less chacks and balances for a P.I., less hoops to jump through, especially if he works for himself. But a P.I. who crosses the line and breaks the law is still breaking the law. Now, a P.I. who straddles the line is always interesting... in fiction, that is!

jonhargrove said...

Hi Jon, nice to see you doing this.

**Well, hello Pauline!

I have a question? I want to find out information on a real murder case in England in 1990. I am in New Zealand. You may recognise this as I posted you what I wrote about this case as I was 'in the middle of it' (statements and finger prints). BUT I want to know more about what happened after I left the country and I've had no luck with the Internet.
This is probably well out of what you know but how can I find out more information of the murderers arrest and trial? I would like to write part 2 and I'm NOT good at finding information! Any ideas for me, Mr Investigator?

**Well, madam...my best suggestion is to have a friend in England (in particular, near where this murder happened) go to the local court house and access this information for you. Often such records are available to the public, especially if one knows exactly what one is looking for. Sounds to me like you reached your internet limit on this one. You'll need a real body doing some legwork for you!

jonhargrove said...

Mega cool, and seems only fair that a PI would have a "killer" smile. :-)

**Haha...you just made this one smile.

My Q: I have a secretary for an all girl PI company- she's been working with them 7 yrs. If her boss asked her to stand in (using her as a decoy/pretend PI so the staff will stop looking for the real one) is it possible she could then "unofficially" take over the case? If the thing she's meant to be guarding gets stolen and she chases all over the place trying to get it back, I presume her actions would be criminal since she's not a real PI. ie stalking in following the subject, not having a license for her borrowed gun (though she has no bullets either,) B&E for searching a place. How would she stand about not bringing in the police on the theft for a few days. I presume that would be interfering with a federal???? case. This is set in NYC.

**You ladies have very active imaginations! I love it. Okay, any P.I. can hire an apprentice. The apprentice would then be officially registered with the state licensing agency. So your boss in this case might have already registered the secretary as an apprentice (in the real world, he would have done this on the off-chance he might have needed her to help him with a case). If he hadn't, he could do so quickly. I don't actually have anyone working for me, and so I never filled out the paperwork to hire an apprentice, but I imagine it's just a matter of faxing something over to the state agency that oversees P.I.'s. (In California, it's the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services, under the Department of Consumer Affairs). As a P.I. apprentice she can legally follow her mark and take pictures. Carrying a gun is a different matter. She would need a license. It's fairly easy for a P.I. to get a license to carry. I'm sketchy on how easy it would be for an apprentice to get a gun. Oh, and anytime a P.I. gets in the way of real police work, yes, they are risking arrest and prosecution.

(Keep in mind, most of this stuff doesn't happen in the real world! So a lot of this is truly "what if.")

jonhargrove said...

Hi Jon! You are a timely guest blogger. The PI in my employ just quoted me 30 days to do a current employment search on someone whose name, address & social security number I possess. Does it really take that long?

**Depends on how thorough a job you need done. A typical background check runs between $100-$150.

On a separate note, I enjoyed Unfinished Business and love a good flirt!

**Ahhh, I'm glad you enjoyed it. Oh, and am I flirting? I hadn't noticed.... ;) Okay, I'd better be good now.

jonhargrove said...

This has been fun! I've enjoyed chatting with you lovely ladies. Sounds to me like there's going to be a slew of great P.I. novels hitting the market soon! Best of luck with everything, and I wish you all a nice holiday weekend!!

Babe King said...

Thanks a heap. I'm guessing in your case the PI stands for Particularly Interesting (see, women can flirt too) ;-)

jonhargrove said...

This was very interesting. I have a PI in my latest WIP (minor character) and this will be very helpful.

**Very cool. Feel free to make him blue-eyed, blond-haired and ruggedly handsome.... ;)

One question: Can you give an example of the kind of proprietary personal databases PI's might have access to?

**The same information that credit bureau's have, although I cannot access actual credit history. Ah, but I can use what's called credit headers, which is everything else that might be in someone's credit report. I use a service called IRBsearch, which is only available to licensed P.I.'s.

I have the PI in my story helping to search for someone who disappeared years ago, resurfaced claiming to be someone else, and is known to have used different names. So they know what she looks like... but not what her name would be. I'd already figured it would be mostly an internet thing, but was wondering what other resources the PI might have.

**Keep in mind such resources are only as good as the information being put into them. That means if someone disappears off the face of the earth, comes back with a new identity, a P.I. wouldn't have anything to access except outdated info. So the science part of the work goes out the window. So this is where your P.I. digs into a real field investigation, because even outdated information offers a wealth of places to begin an investigation: interviewing friends, past neighbors, relatives and co-workers. Hope this helps. Remember, locating someone who does not want to be found requires A LOT of work on the part of your P.I. There's no crystal ball. However, locating someone who isn't in hiding is fairly easy.

Gemma Halliday said...

Jon, you rock! Thanks so much for coming to chat with us. Everyone, remember how to spell his name for your acknowledgments section! ;)

~Gemma

Jennifer McK said...

THAT. WAS. AWESOME!!! Thank you so much Jon.
NICE snag Gemma.
What a great bunch of questions and answers.

This was very interesting. I have a PI in my latest WIP (minor character) and this will be very helpful.

**Very cool. Feel free to make him blue-eyed, blond-haired and ruggedly handsome.... ;


I am so going to do this, Jon.

C. Ellis said...

Thank you, Jon for answering my questions. :) Yes, things go bad for my poor-suffering P.I., but he does get the girl, so he shouldn't complain too much. LOL.

Oh, and I think I'll pass on the magnifying glass and pipe and just stick with my black-seamed silk stockings and trench-coat. :D

Jennifer McK said...

Psssst, Gemma, he's YUMMY.

Gemma Halliday said...

Oh yeah. Wait til you meet him in person. *fanning self* ;)

~Gemma

RachaelfromNJ said...

Very interesting.

Barbara said...

I knew a PI once. A very seedy kinda guy. It's nice to know that they aren't all like you see in old movies and meet on the street.

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