ITVs and movies create a number of myths about private investigators. You frequently see them entering houses and buildings illegally, speeding, driving dangerously in the pursuit of a suspect, planting illegal listening devices, placing GPS devices on suspects’ cars, accessing private bank accounts and criminal records, and engaging in various other clandestine activities.

In Hollywood, the stereotypical PI is a hard drinking womanizing male who works out of a small, dank office and employs attractive curvaceous secretaries. They are quick to use their fists and often carry a hand gun. They loathe paperwork; I can’t remember a movie where a PI had to write a report for a client. And, If you are Thomas Magnum, you live on a large palatial ocean-side estate in Hawaii, drive a Ferrari and have a friend who owns a helicopter service.

This should come as no surprise to you, but the reality is quite different. Here’s are some insights into what their world looks like.

  • Private Investigators are required to have a strong working knowledge of at least 14 different types of legislation.
  • Approximately 24% of private investigators in Canada are women and that number is growing.
  • PIs are governed by a Code of Conduct.
  • PIs do not carry guns or knives as weapons.
  • There is nothing glamorous about conducting surveillance; it is boring, tedious and requires an iron butt. It involves sitting in a turned off vehicle in all kinds of weather including extreme cold and heat. Bathrooms breaks are taken in the surveillance vehicle using what is called a “pee bottle”.
  • It is illegal to place a GPS device on a suspect’s vehicle without their permission.
  • PIs have to have excellent verbal and written communication skills. Reports have to be well written, concise, accurate and grammatically correct. PIs spend hours in front of a computer screen writing reports. Verbal reports have to be logical, clear and crisp.
  • A typical workday involves an early morning start and long days and can be stressful and dangerous, especially with covert or undercover operations. Patience, stamina, and mental acuity are tested daily. Hangovers from excessive drinking don’t help the cause.
  • PIs navigate complex and sensitive issues. Diplomacy, tact and excellent interpersonal skills are required. Maintaining a confidence is essential too.
  • PIs have to be excellent researchers and problem solvers.
  • PIs have to abide by all laws. Driving at excessive speeds to follow a suspect is illegal.
  • PIs cannot access personal banking information or conduct a criminal background check without the suspect’s written authorization.
  • PIs must use ethical decision making in determining the correct action in a situation. They frequently walk the tightrope between what is right and wrong and legal and illegal.
  • PIs are detailed oriented and have great memories.
  • Like the movies, PIs don’t have sexual relations with their clients.

I hope this gives you a better and more accurate picture of the real world of private investigators.