Private investigators (PIs) have the important responsibility of retrieving information about a person, persons, or business. In order to do this properly, Private Investigators need to record and gather this detailed information so that they can relay it accurately to their clients. To get the most comprehensive and useful information possible, private investigators need the right equipment to enhance the skills that they already have in collecting data and evidence. In this article, we will do an investigation ourselves into the essential equipment for a private investigator, and we will also detail those tools that they should not use.
What gear does a Private Investigator need?
Private investigators need reliable tools and resources to assist them in surveillance, counter-surveillance, investigations, and stakeouts. However, the bulk of this equipment is used for surveillance – which is when a PI observes the behavior and patterns of a person or people from a distance. The goal during surveillance is to gather information and details about a person’s habits without their knowledge and observe them in their “natural habitat”. Therefore, the gear that a private investigator needs should be able to accurately record, track, and detail these patterns of behavior in a way that allows the PI to go undetected.
Learn more: 9 Surveillance Techniques for Private Investigators
What detective gear should a Private Investigator NOT use?
When conducting surveillance, it is essential for the investigator to remain within the confines of the law. Private investigators are not members of law enforcement, and they should never portray themselves as such to the subjects of their investigations. They should never wear uniforms or badges that might wrongly suggest that they are an officer, as this is not only misleading but also illegal.
Private investigators should also be cautious so that they don’t use equipment in a way that crosses a line into harassment of their subjects. For example, they cannot put a GPS tracker on someone’s vehicle or record conversations without consent. It is the responsibility of the PI to understand the legal use of their gear depending on their specific state laws.
Learn more: What Can a Private Investigator Do (and Not Do)
Essential Private Investigator Equipment List
Now that we know a little bit more about how a Private Investigator’s gear should help them on the job, let’s go over some specific essentials that every private investigator should have when surveilling a subject.
One of the most important pieces of equipment a PI can have is a quality pair of binoculars so that they can observe a subject from a distance. This helps them to accurately monitor the subject while remaining out of sight. Binoculars are also quite useful for stakeout missions when gathering information.
Computer and Cell Phone Software
Many times, the information that a private investigator needs cannot be found by simply watching the subject in person. In this increasingly digital world, much of the information that a PI needs is likely on the subject's computer, laptop, or cell phone. In these cases, private investigators need hardware and software to track an array of details including internet search history, sites visited, chats, calls, texts, deleted messages, etc. Oftentimes, there is a gold mine of information to be found on someone’s digital devices.
Learn more: Can a Private Investigator Use Social Media? | What is a Digital Private Investigator?
GPS Devices and Trackers
When documenting patterns of behavior, it is often insightful to track someone’s movement – which is where a GPS device or tracker becomes incredibly helpful. These devices can monitor the movement of people, vehicles, cell phones, or any other physical object that can be tracked. Again, a private investigator cannot just put a tracker on a person or vehicle without their consent. It is important that they adhere to their specific state laws when using GPS devices during an investigation.
Private investigators often need to record a scene from all angles, and although cell phone cameras become more and more advanced with each release, sometimes it’s best to rely on visual information from a camera. Many cameras still take higher quality photos than even the best phone cameras, which allows each detail to be captured. However, if a PI is staked out with a camera that has a large lens, it’s more likely that they may be spotted, so it’s important to invest in a high-quality camera that is also easily concealed.
Here are 6 great spy cameras for your Private Investigator tool kit.
Notebook and Pen
They’re not flashy, they’re not fancy, but they are incredibly practical and useful in many situations – a classic notebook and pen. Taking notes on a phone can be cumbersome, and using a laptop is not always practical in every situation. However, a notebook and pen will always be ready when needed – they don’t need to be charged, are easily stored and hidden, and can be easily taken anywhere. Sometimes, the old-school tried and true methods are the best way to go.
Learn more: The Expert’s Guide to Writing Investigative Reports
When gathering the needed information during surveillance, private investigators need the right tools to do the job. With the right equipment, they can gather details to assist their clients and help them during their investigation.
Interested in sharpening your skills as a private investigator? Check out NITA’s Surveillance Basics for Investigators course today!
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