By Kelly Riddle
Do a quick search on Craig’s List, conduct an Internet search or even open a phone book — if you still have one — and look for a private investigator. There is a good chance you will find an “investigator” breaking the law. Did you know that hiring an unlicensed investigator is also an offense and can be a felony (Section 1702.388)?
MAKE SURE THEY FOLLOW THE LAW
The Texas Occupations Code – Section 1702 (commonly called the Private Security Act) is the governing code regulating the private investigation profession along with the Private Security Administrative Rules – Chapter 35. They set out the regulations governing private investigators. Like many professions that deal with vast and ever-changing technology, privacy issues and an underlying current of covert operations, the laws and regulations continually change. Hiring a licensed PI that is active in their state and national associations adds additional assurances in your hiring process.
Licensing of PIs has been left up to each state, with the exception of Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Mississippi and South Dakota, which do not currently have licensing requirements. In Texas, Section 1702.104(a) spells out an investigation company as:
(a) A person who acts as an investigations company for the purposes of this chapter if the person:
(1) engages in the business of obtaining or furnishing, or accepts employment to obtain or furnish, information related to:
(A) crime or wrongs done or threatened against a state or the United States;
(B) the identity, habits, business, occupation, knowledge, efficiency, loyalty, movement, location, affiliations, associations, transactions, acts, reputation, or character of a person;
(C) the location, disposition, or recovery of lost or stolen property; or
(D) the cause or responsibility for a fire, libel, loss, accident, damage, or injury to a person or to property;
(2) engages in the business of securing, or accepts employment to secure, evidence for use before a court, board, officer, or investigating committee;
(3) engages in the business of securing, or accepts employment to secure, the electronic tracking of the location of an individual or motor vehicle other than for criminal justice purposes by or on behalf of a governmental entity; or
(4) engages in the business of protecting, or accepts employment to protect, an individual from bodily harm through the use of a personal protection officer.
(b) For purposes of Subsection (a)(1), obtaining or furnishing information includes information obtained or furnished through the review and analysis of, and the investigation into the content of, computer-based data not available to the public.
Many of these “investigators” either do not know or choose to ignore the licensing requirements. For an attorney, this can have a detrimental effect on a case and any potential evidence collected. Rookie investigators are taught that information obtained from the Internet is an unconfirmed source and must be corroborated. While searching the Internet is an accepted method for obtaining various services, it is still caveat emptor when hiring a PI.
According to Section 1702.386, Unauthorized Employment – Offense; (a) A person commits an offense if the person contracts with or employs a person who is required to hold a license, registration, certificate, or commission under this chapter knowing [emphasis added] that the person does not hold the required license, registration, certificate, or commission or who otherwise, at the time of contract or employment, is in violation of this chapter. An offense under Subsection (a) is a Class A misdemeanor.
HIRE A LICENSED PROFESSIONAL
A quick point of reference for locating a reputable PI is encompassed in their advertisement or website. Section 35.37 requires, “any advertisement by a licensee to include the company name and address as it appears in the records of the board; and the license number of the licensee as issued by the board.” If this basic information is not plainly outlined in their marketing materials, further documentation should be obtained.
The original licensing board was formed in 1969 when the Texas Legislature created the Texas Board of Private Detectives, Private Investigators, Private Patrolmen, and Private Guard Watchmen (or Private Guards and Managers), to examine, license, and regulate persons working in the field of private security (Senate Bill 164, 61st Legislature, Regular Session, 1969). A revision of the law in 1971 changed the agency’s name to Texas Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies (Senate Bill 768, 62nd Legislature, Regular Session, 1971). In 2004 the board became the Texas Private Security Board (https://www.dps.texas.gov/rsd/psb/) under the Texas Department of Public Safety. As in any due diligence, the board’s website provides a free search to confirm that both the agency and the investigator are licensed. There are documented cases where the opposing counsel was smart enough to ask the simple question; “are you a licensed investigator” when cross-examining the witness.
The Texas Association of Licensed Investigators (www.TALI.org) was founded in 1971 and provides a platform for investigators to cultivate their skills. With more than 650 members, this is an outstanding source for attorneys who need the help of trained and professional private investigators. Taking this a step even further is the Texas Certified Investigator (TCI) designation (www.TexasCertifiedInvestigator.com) that is similar to a board certified attorney. An investigator with at least five years’ experience as a private investigator can apply for the TALI sponsored TCI program. In addition to the experience requirements, the candidate must pass a written test, oral examination and publish a white paper to further document their level of skill.
While there are some private investigators that are also licensed attorneys, it is imperative that the investigator you hire belong to their state associations. As an attorney, you want someone that keeps up-to-date on such issues as privacy, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, applicable GPS laws, forensic requirement, data recovery techniques, cell phone data recovery regulations, and related issues that keep all parties free from criminal and civil liability.
For private investigators, the state association is a very reliable sponsor of in-depth training. In addition to offering training and the TCI designation, TALI has an unlicensed PI committee that helps the Private Security Board identify unlicensed PIs. TALI also has a legislative committee to provide feedback on bills and laws affecting legal investigations.
When hiring a PI, why not take an extra few minutes and confirm you are dealing with a fully qualified professional?
Kelly E. Riddle is the President of Kelmar and Associates Investigations (www.KelmarGlobal.com) as well as a certified member of the Texas Association of Licensed Investigators (https://www.tali.org/).