Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Private investigators can be called upon by insurance companies to conduct an investigation of one of their client’s claims due to a residential or business burglary.  Usually the claim has raised some red flags with the insurance company and they want an investigator to look at it.  

First, interview the insurance company representative to find out their concerns in the case.  Many times a claimant has taken out a policy shortly before the burglary.  Find out the date the policy was requested, the date it was issued, and the date of the burglary.  Has the claimant made any prior burglary claims?  Check and see if the claimant or his/her significant other has any recent bankruptcies, tax liens or judgments filed against them.

Obtain a copy of the burglary report and review it.  Pay close attention to the point of entry that was made and the object used (Bodily force, pry tool, brick etc.).  Interview the police officer(s) who were at the scene and took the report.  Ask them if they had any concerns regarding what they saw at the crime scene.  Most police officers and detectives have been to hundreds of burglary crime scenes.  Those that appear to be suspicious usually jump out at them.  If any photographs were taken, ask to view them.  Pay close attention to what the photographs show at the point of entry and the amount of ransacking.

Lastly, interview the claimant in person and conduct a crime scene investigation.  Did the claimant have any photographs or sales receipts of the items claimed taken in the burglary.  Is it physically possible that the burglary occurred the way it was claimed?  Could a suspect(s) physically have done what is in the report? 
Burglars usually know the places to look in a residence for jewelry, money, guns, electronic equipment etc.  They may do some ransacking, but it’s usually not extensive because they want to get in and get out quickly before being discovered. They usually don’t take large, bulky items and oftentimes use a pillow case to stash their loot in.

Most people have little experience with burglary crime scenes.  Their big mistake is that they usually over produce it.  Excessive ransacking is always a red flag.  I vividly recall on investigation where the claimant had dumped multiple drawers in each room throughout the house.  He had even moved dining room furniture and left it by a door.  Large paintings had also been moved to appear that they were being staged to go out the door.  On another case, the point of entry was claimed to be a window smash.  The problem was that the majority of the broken glass shards were on the lawn outside of the house rather than on the floor underneath the window.  It was apparent that the window had been broken by someone standing inside the house.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


One area of investigative work that a private investigator can be utilized in is death investigations.  Often times the family of a decedent has suspicions regarding their loved ones death and question the finding of the police and/or coroner’s office.  After interviewing the client, the private investigator should obtain and review any police reports, autopsy reports and photographs that are available.  A key step in the investigation is an examination of the death scene.  This can sometimes occur days, months or even years after the death.  It is still critically important to view the death location.  Even though some things may have changed at the location, you still need to conduct an on-site examination.  Is what you see at the location consistent with what’s in the reports? Has anything changed?  Is anything wrong?   Is the manner and cause of death listed in the reports consistent to what you see at the scene?  Do the events portrayed in the reports match up with the evidence you see at the scene?  Are there any errors in the report?  Could the decedent have met his demise the way it’s portrayed in the reports?

There is always the possibility that evidence could have been overlooked by the police at the scene, so if you find anything that you think could be of evidentiary value, be sure to photograph it before recovering it.  Take your own photographs, measurements and diagram.  Remember that oftentimes the only police presence at a death not immediately classified as a homicide is usually patrol officers who may not have a lot of experience in death investigations.  Take nothing for granted while you are out there.  If possible, try to conduct your examination of the scene at the same time as the estimated time of death.  Lighting at the scene could play an important part in the investigation and in witnesses’ accounts.

An added benefit to conducting a death scene examination is that it will greatly assist you when you are interviewing family members and potential witnesses.  Be sure to have the diagram and photographs to available to show witnesses.  Try to interview the police officers, paramedics and coroner’s investigator that were at the scene.  They may or may not talk to you, but it’s worth a try.

Saturday, March 17, 2012


A number of people have asked me about the differences in vehicle surveillance work between law enforcement agencies and private investigators.  Probably the biggest difference is that law enforcement agencies usually use at least two or more vehicles in tailing suspects while private investigators usually do it alone with one vehicle.  The difference comes down to money and resources.  Law enforcement agencies usually have specialized surveillance teams with multiple detectives and vehicles.  They can spend days tailing suspects.  Private investigators have to work within a client’s budget and time table.  Rarely does it ever happen that a client can afford to pay to have two or more surveillance vehicles on a case.  Even rarer is when a client can afford multiple days on tailing someone.  Usually it’s one or two days.

In a multiple vehicle scenario, you can have vehicles switch off on the tail, put someone ahead of the suspect’s vehicle, and even parallel the tail.  With multiple vehicles it’s much easier to tail a vehicle when red lights, congestion or other traffic problems arise.  Law enforcement agencies even have helicopter and fixed wing aircraft to assist in the surveillance. You can start out for a couple days of ‘loose’ tailing, and then begin to tighten it up. For the private investigator, usually none of these advantages exist.  It’s usually the one lone investigator tailing the subject. 

 Even though it may seem that the deck is really stacked against the private investigator in this area, there are many outstanding vehicle surveillance specialists out there.  Some have prior law enforcement backgrounds while others learned it on the job (OJT).  They get good by doing it.  They know when to close up on a vehicle in anticipation of a red light or traffic congestion.  They know when to hold back and/or get in an adjoining lane so there not ‘bumper locking’ the tail.  They know when to pull over after turning a corner and yet keep the tailed vehicle in sight.  They know how to get the best photos and video to make their client’s case. 

Because there is usually no margin of error for the private investigator working alone, he or she just has to work harder to get the right results.  And that’s just what many of the really good surveillance specialists in the private investigation field do day in and day out.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Solving the NYC Hollywood Mask Robbery

At the end of February 2012 there was a unique crime in New York City that made national news.  Three suspects robbed a check cashing store of $200,000 dollars.  The thing that set this crime apart from other robberies was that the suspects were wearing blue police-like jackets with the NYPD logos on them along with police type badges around their necks.  They all wore sunglasses and two of the suspects were wearing NY Yankee baseball hats.  The media also reported that the police think the suspects may have been wearing expensive, whole head Hollywood style masks.  They may not even know the ethnicity or race of the robbers.

How do detectives go about solving this type of crime?  Because the crime was caught on the store’s video, they will examine every frame of the film to look for any idiosyncrasy they can find on the suspects, such as a scar, tattoo, mark, watch ring etc. that the film reveals.  They’ll canvass every store and mail order business that specializes in whole head masks looking for similar purchases.  They’ll be contacting makeup artists who may have had some recent clients around the time of the robbery.  They’ll be contacting other police agencies nationwide to see if they have had any similar crimes and suspects.  Get-a-way SUVs were used in the crime.  They’ll be looking for stolen vehicles that were similar to the ones used and looking to find both where they were stolen and recovered.  There’s a chance that one or more of the suspects may have been arrested in their past for a similar robbery using the same MO.  If so, they’ll want to know everything they can about that crime, including interviewing the detectives who handled that investigation.

One of the most important tools in solving this crime is getting information from informants.  Suspects have friends, wives, girlfriends, drug suppliers and competitors who all have information about what went down.  The suspects had to get police-like badges, jackets, masks and vehicles to pull this off.  That’s a lot of working parts and other people would have to either be involved or have some knowledge.  Vice, narcotic and plainclothes detectives will be or should be talking to every arrestee in the city along with their regular informants to find out who knows something.  Whether they’re working off an arrest, greed or revenge, somebody is going to talk.  When that happens, the heat is on and the case will be solved.