Tuesday, July 26, 2011


What is the chief skill necessary to be a good interrogator?  First and foremost, you have to have confidence in yourself.  If you have a method that you learned and studied, then go into that interrogation room believing that you’re going to go in there and get a suspect to cop out.  Don’t let the severity of the crime scare you.  What’s the difference between a petty theft and a triple murder when it comes to an interrogation?  Nothing other than the latter has two more pieces of evidence (the murder victims).  Some investigators get spooked if it’s a serious crime, or if it’s taped and/or video recorded.  If you have a good method that you’ve worked on, it doesn’t matter.  The technique is always the same, no matter how minor or how serious the crime.  After I became comfortable with the book method I chose, I didn’t care if they had me doing it on national television with a full crowd in the Los Angeles Coliseum.  One time I had a young detective trainee listen in from another room in the police station while I interviewed a parolee on a case.  After I got him to cop out to the crime, I went and spoke with my trainee about it.  He told me that he had tape recorded it so he could listen to it again and learn from it.  When I advised him that we would have to turn over the tape to the District Attorney’s office and the Suspect’s lawyer, he was embarrassed and apologetic.  I told him not to worry, because the method I used every time I interrogated was well within the guidelines of the US Constitution.  So go in there and get em, tiger!  

Thursday, July 21, 2011


The most important thing to learn about interrogation is that you have to have a method.  You can’t just wing it, or worse than that, use the untried and untrue method of interrogation that most police and private investigators use with constant failure.  And what method is that, you may ask.  It’s the same one that the general public has of interrogations, gleaned from years of watching TV cop shows and movies.  Hard to believe, but most cops and PIs use the methods dreamed up by Hollywood screen writers.  This is definitely one time you want to go against perceptions.  When I first started out as a police detective, I was embarrassed because I couldn’t get suspects to cop out to any crimes they committed.  Using my Dad’s axiom that if you don’t know something, someone wrote a book on it, I went down to a legal bookstore and found a book on interrogations.  Even though it went against my perceived knowledge of interrogations (TV & movies again), I studied it, utilized it every time I interrogated someone, and then critiqued myself.  After a while, I was amazed that suspects began coping out to all kinds of crimes.  I got to be really successful at obtaining confessions.  My success at interrogation wasn’t really due to me, however, it was due to the method that I learned and utilized.  Here’s where I’m going with this.  Find a method you like.  Buy the book and attend the author’s seminar when you can.  Study it and believe in it.  Use it every time, whether it’s a petty theft or a triple murder.  Critique yourself every time when you’re finished.  When you get that first cop out, you’ll know it was all worth it. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


My Dad was an old baseball man.  Besides teaching me the finer points of the game, he always said: "If you look like a ballplayer, you’ll play like a ballplayer.  If you look like a ham-n-egger, you’ll play like a ham-n-egger." That goes with people’s perception of a professional investigator.  Their perception is that he or she wears business attire and carries a notebook or legal pad.  If you want to get the job done, it’s usually best to go with perceptions (There are always exceptions, but not on this one).  A police detective should always wear a sports jacket and tie, but a private investigator can get away with a nice sports jacket and collared shirt.  Even if it’s hot out and your witness canvassing, you should always wear a sports jacket and collared shirt when you’re out dealing with the public.  I recall once when I was a homicide detective we had an investigation that took us to a small town in another state.  That agency had their narcotic squad also handle their homicides.   Even with me, subconsciously it didn’t seem to fit seeing a long haired, bearded and casually dressed detective saying he was a homicide detective.  I wonder how many potential witnesses he talked to held back information because of perceptions.  They carry you a long way in this business.  If you want to be an investigator, dress like an investigator.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


One of the most important and yet often overlooked tools that investigators should use in criminal investigations is the neighborhood canvass for witnesses.  Let’s say you’re investigating a burglary that happened at a residence sometime between 8:00 AM when the victim left for work and 5:00 PM when they returned.  Usually the police response is uniformed officers who will take a report and do little else.  With no suspect(s) seen and no witnesses located, that’s usually the end of their investigation.  If you’re the private investigator hired on the case, the next step after your initial interview with the client should be to canvass the block where the crime occurred for witnesses.  It’s important to canvass at the time when you’ll find the most potential residents at home.  That’s usually in the evening between 5:30 and 7:30 PM on weekdays and 8:00 to 1200 noon on weekends.  If you’re going to pick a weeknight, surveys have shown that the evening which most people are home is Thursday nights.  Don’t be lazy and just door knock only the next door neighbors.  Door knock the whole block, both sides of the street. Always ask if anyone else may live in the residence whose not home when you came by.  Get their name and phone number and call them.  Leave your business card in the front door of any residences where no one is home with ‘Please Call Me’ printed on it.  This may be boring and tedious, but remember, you only need to find one witness to break a case.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


First and foremost, you have to remember that being a PI is first and foremost a business.  If you want to be successful at this over the long haul, you have to focus on this from a business standpoint.  There are many outstanding police detectives who become PI’s and ultimately fail at it.  They get a Private Investigator’s license, get some business cards and a letterhead printed, and get a business phone.  Then they can’t understand when the phone isn’t ringing why they aren’t getting any business.  I always counsel other police officers who are thinking of going into PI work that you have to learn the business end to be successful.  You need to know marketing, advertising, how much to charge, where to I get information, and most important, how do you get work to come to you.  One of the biggest problems I have found with retired officers is that they charge too little.  This is a business that is strictly result oriented.  The client doesn’t care if you have a fancy office, drive a fancy car, or wear expensive suits.  Clients are motivated by one thing, RESULTS!  If you get results, you’ll get repeat business.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Whether you’re doing vehicle or walking surveillances, there are certain traits you need to acquire to be good at it.  The first one is patience.  You may be sitting in a vehicle for four or six hours and then suddenly your subject comes out of a location and you have to react.  The next important trait is concentration.  You have to be focused on that residence or that vehicle, possibly for a lengthy period of time.  One turn of the head, one mental lapse, and you can miss your subject and blow the surveillance.  You also have to have confidence in yourself and fight off the feeling that you’ve been ‘burned.’  Although it’s hard for new people in this field to understand, most subjects are completely oblivious to their surroundings and never pay attention to a tail.  Here are some tips to help you out.  Whether you’re on foot or in a vehicle, try not to bumper lock the subject.  You don’t have to be right behind the subject in the same lane in a car or even on the same side of the street on foot in order to follow him.  Beginners at this are often paranoid and think that if the subject looks in their direction their burned.  This is rarely if ever the case.  Here’s my rule of thumb.  One look by the subject directly at me, no big deal.  The emphasis here is on directly at me.  A second direct look and I have to be real careful.  Now you have to decide if you want to risk a third direct look or come back another day.  This will most likely depend on how many hours of surveillance the client has agreed on.  A third direct look and you’re probably burned.  Lastly, you learn best by doing it, so go out and do it.

Friday, July 8, 2011


I learned early on in my career that if you want to get the maximum information out of an interview, it pays to do them in person.  Besides listening to the answers, you can also see the interviewee’s body language as they respond to the questions.  You can’t see that in a telephone interview.  Plus, just like Detective Columbo from the old TV show, when something pops into your head as your going out the door, you can ask "Just one more question."  It’s hard to do that after you’ve hung up the phone.  It’s also important not to leap into the interview right away.  Try to find some common link that can break down the investigator/interviewee formality and make it a person to person talk. Comment on the flower garden, the military picture on the mantel frame or the caged parrot in the living room.  Try to get the prospective interviewee to talk about something that interests them.  I’ll talk for 10 minutes or more on something interesting in the interviewee’s house or office before I begin the interview.  I’ve had bricklayers show me how to lay brick, former high school football players show me the proper 3 point football stance, and little old ladies show me how to tame a parrot.  Everybody likes to feel important, and by letting them talk about something that interests them, you are building a bond.  Once you segue into the interview, they're already relaxed and comfortable with you.  The conversation will just flow, and so will the information.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Once when I was a homicide detective in South Central Los Angeles, we we’re handling a very difficult gang murder.  It had happened in broad daylight on a residential street, but this particular gang had intimidated the neighborhood to the point where after a number of weeks we still didn’t have an eye witness to the murder.  We had already canvassed the neighborhood on two previous occasions, but if you’re dead in the water on a case you go back to Detecting 101.  So we went back out for a third canvass.  We came to one particular house where we had already interviewed the two elderly residents.  One was blind and the other one had beginning stages of Alzheimer’s disease.  Being dogged detectives, and having no other good clues to work with, we again door knocked it.  When we were let into the residence, I noticed a middle aged female sitting in the kitchen.  She looked towards me, and then immediately looked down at the floor.  I walked down the hallway to where she was sitting and the first thing I said to her was, “You saw it, didn’t you!”  She slowly looked back up and nodded her head.  She identified the shooter and the other participants and we were able to solve the case.  Like I said, I'd rather be lucky then good.