Police have arrest powers and private investigators are citizens with licenses and no additional police powers. Police are enforcers of the law. Private investigators are licensed and regulated gathers of information. At times these entities can cooperate to achieve a common goal or be on opposing sides. What are the similarities and differences in these entities?
An investigation may begin with a call to the police or a private investigator. Generally, if it is a crime, police are the first responders. If the case is serious, detectives and forensic crime scene personnel are brought in to continue the investigation. Police first responders are likely uniform officers, and their responsibility is to secure the crime scene, identify witnesses, and develop information for the detectives. If the perpetrator is at the scene of the crime, he or she is taken into custody. In more serious crimes or accidents, detectives interview victim(s) and witnesses, document details of the crime, and develop evidence that result in arrest and prosecution. Detectives provide important trial testimony.
Attorneys and private persons retain private investigators to review and where necessary reinvestigate the facts contained in the police report, which may be the basis of civil litigation or criminal prosecution. This can create tension between private investigators and law enforcement personnel. The private investigator will review all crime scene evidence reports, investigation reports, lab reports, medical reports, computer forensic reports, photographs, sketches, and witness statements. As a result, witnesses may be re-interviewed and additional witnesses developed. The private investigator may recommend to counsel other expert consultants be retained to review certain forensic evidence, for example autopsy and toxicology reports. Private investigators provide court testimony and are often called upon for expert witness testimony.
It is worth mentioning that tensions exist between law enforcement at the local, state and federal levels. It’s all about turf and case control. Recently, the New York City Police Counter Terrorism Teams were criticized for doing surveillance work in New Jersey without notifying the FBI. Commissioner Kelly stood his ground with a professional response supported by Mayor Bloomberg and the controversy has disappeared. There will always be some tensions between investigative entities, which depend for the most part on how they achieve the goals and objectives of their department or agency.
In the end, the police officers or detectives and private investigators are at times on opposing sides in the courtroom. No one likes to have his or her work scrutinized and critiqued. It works both ways in testimony. A good investigation is one that uncovers the facts, discovers the truth, and serves justice for all parties, regardless of bruised egos or hurt feelings.