But wait, you say, you're a PI! Don't you have a hangar full of them? Isn't your squadron of drones buzzing around the skies of south Florida, gathering footage on all those people you have under surveillance? The truth is, no, I don't have one, and if I did it would be for personal entertainment only. Here's why: in July of this year, the Florida legislature enacted into law statute 934.425, which in part prevents private investigators from using drones to collect information. The spirit of the original bill, according to the research I've done, was to prevent stalkers from spying on people, and that is a good thing. We had incidents of people tanning themselves in their backyard only to hear the whine of small propellers overhead, and then looking up to see a drone filming them. No one wants that kind of intrusion, but the Florida legislature decided at the last minute that private investigators should be lumped in with the stalkers and--bam--there goes a valuable tool we could use in locating stolen property, verifying assets for creditors, and finding missing children. While FALI (The Florida Association of Licensed Investigators) and the NCISS (National Council of Investigation and Security Services) has fought valiantly to exempt the industry from laws such as this, many states, like Florida, have turned a deaf ear. You can fly a drone over someone's property and take footage of what's there, as long as you have their written permission.
Another technological wonder we get asked about all the time is the portable gps. Most of these units are about the size of a men's wallet, and they go into a box with a large magnet on it. The box can then be placed underneath a car, just about anywhere, the vehicle can then be tracked live on a laptop or cell phone, and all the movements (all accompanied by the exact time of each event), stops, etc, can be recorded and played back if necessary. It's another terrific tool, one that can assist us to assist law enforcement in preventing abduction of children, among many other things. But like drones, the state of Florida has decided not to trust us with it. Abuse is always a concern--and always should be--but to assume that licensed private investigators are going to abuse such a valuable tool is to be uninformed, and well, just plain unfair. Whatever happened to handling incidents on a case-by-case basis?
When people ask me if we can put a GPS on someone's car (99% of the time, it's a cheating spouse), I give them two answers: the legal one, and the practical one. The practical answer has to do with how best to spend your money. GPS units aren't cheap, and they are limited in helping you determine the truth. If you want to find out if your spouse is cheating, the GPS might assist in catching someone in a lie, but most of the time it won't confirm anything. The GPS tells you where the car is, not what the person is doing. If I am sitting at my laptop, watching the supposedly sneaky husband go from his office, down the boulevard, to a retail shopping center and park there, what can I tell the client? That his car was parked at the shopping center for forty-five minutes, then it left and went back to the office. She can ask the husband, "where did you go yesterday?" and he says, "to the hardware store" or "to have lunch with a client" at one of the places in the shopping center, we haven't moved the case forward an inch. To confirm someone's behavior, you need to have a human being make observations. Only then can you see that he parked the car at the shopping center, got out, and walked to the girlfriend's car, where they smooched and carried on for forty-five minutes. The most-high tech GPS on earth can never relate observations to you, because it can't make any.
We have other electronic tools too, and they come in form of informational research databases. They are great. They are so good, in fact, I wish we had them when I was in police work. But the backbone of investigative work, whether it's a murder case or a cheating spouse, is the human factor. Even with footage from a security camera, to use it in court requires a live witness to raise their right hand, sit on the witness stand and speak to the court, to get it admitted into evidence.
That's people power, and that will always be what makes investigation part science, and part art.