The private eye is a hard drinking, womanizing, tough guy with a gun, at least in popular culture. It’s a job for Mike Hammer, Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe. The male private investigator (P.I.) has been glamourized in noir fiction, television series and movies, but it’s time to get real. Step aside, men… the women are taking over and we aren’t doing it in high heels and designer trench coats.
When Eugène François Vidocq founded the first private investigation agency, le Bureau des Renseignements, in 1833, he recognized that women had unique skills. The former criminal used the talents of women for his Paris-based agency, but his gang of undercover operatives were mostly other criminals and ladies of the night.
The first female P.I. in North America was Kate Warne. She was hired by Pinkerton’s in 1856. Kate proved she could do the job when she went undercover as a southern belle and helped prevent an assassination attempt against Lincoln.
Can women infiltrate the Old Boys’ Club?
Women are still underrepresented in this industry, but it is slowly changing. In a city like Toronto, investigation agencies need a staff of investigators that reflect the diverse culture. People who speak more than one language or can blend in with the population are desirable. You can’t send a man to do a woman’s job. A six-foot-two muscular ex-cop is going to stand out when he follows a female subject into a spa or hair salon.
Some people are less threatened by a woman and many of us have a natural ability to get people to confide in us. If you love to do research on the Internet and talk on the phone, the P.I. world is a place for you. I worked as a P.I. and an investigations manager for more than 25 years.
When I started out, most of my colleagues were male, and I had to prove myself by taking the most dangerous assignments. When you gotta go, you gotta go
“The minutes went by on tiptoe, with their fingers to their lips.” ~ Raymond Chandler, from The Lady in the Lake
This is the perfect description of surveillance. You drag yourself out of bed before dawn because most surveillance start early in the morning. Usually, you are following someone from their home to see where they go and what they do. You sit and you wait. That’s it! Try not to fall asleep.
Importance of driving for private investigators
Once you are on the road, you have to be able to handle your vehicle like a pro, or you could lose the subject of your investigation. You can’t get too close, or you could get “burnt” and clients don’t like it when you blow an investigation. You also have to take notes and video while you are keeping your eye on the action. You know you should never leave your dog in the car on a hot day? If you are the kind of woman who doesn’t like to be covered in sweat, get an office job. In the winter, you’ll freeze. You can’t leave your car running or you will attract attention. You have to sit in a surveillance vehicle for hours, which means that if you have to relieve yourself, you are going to have a more difficult time. Men can urinate in a bottle.
There are ways around this, but you’ll have to investigate those. Why would anyone in her right mind want this job?
- Every day is an adventure and anything can happen.
- It’s challenging.
- You have to make snap decisions that could make or break your investigation.
You quickly realize that intuition is something you need to hone. An investigator has to be able to tell a story. The culmination of your work is a report that makes sense and is interesting to the reader, or the client, who is paying the big dollars. Your evidence may be used in court, so it has to be correct and true.
Depending on where you work, a P.I. can make from $15 to more than $30 per hour, plus mileage and expenses. You can also write off a lot of expenses on your income tax. Is it all about the cheating spouse? Domestic investigations aren’t the main focus of most agencies. While you may end up following a cheater, the large agencies focus on more lucrative contracts, such as:
- Insurance fraud
- Corporate fraud
- Background checks
- Labour disputes
- Locates and skip tracing
- Legal investigations
How do I become a P.I.?
Private investigators are regulated and licensed by the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. To be eligible for a licence: You must be 18 years of age or older, eligible to work in Canada and have a clean criminal record. You must take a minimum 50-hour training course and pass a test. Those who are really serious about this career often take a police foundations course or study criminal justice at a community college.
Once you have that Private Investigator ID in your hand, you’ll still need some on-the-job experience. Surveillance and other techniques aren’t something you can learn in a classroom. Some agencies will train new investigators or allow you to shadow a more experienced investigator. There are dozens of investigation agencies in the Toronto area. The industry remains strong, even during a weak economy. Crime never sleeps. If this sounds like an interesting career choice and you want more information, call some of the major agencies and ask to speak with the investigations manager. Most investigators love to talk about their jobs because most of the time, they have to remain discreet.