Friday, June 13, 2014

Private Investigators & Surveillance

What is Surveillance?

Surveillance is the close observation of a person, place, or object. It is the practice of watching a subject in order to document and identify any of the contact, interactions, or whereabouts of the subject. Surveillance investigations can include:
  • Missing person searches
  • Cheating spouse investigations
  • Recurrent theft
  • Worker's compensation claim
  • Vandalism

Why Conduct Surveillance?

PI Surveillance from CarThere are a number of reasons to conduct surveillance. Surveillance is conducted to prevent crime, to obtain evidence of a crime, to obtain evidence in civil suits, to document an individual’s location, to document activities in or around a specific location or building, to obtain information to be used in an interrogation, to gather intelligence, or to obtain information to be used in court.

Simply, you might need surveillance from a qualified private investigator at some point in your life. With marital infidelity on the rise, employee dishonesty increasing, and crime rates a concern for everyone across the country, surveillance is one way you can stay safe and secure. Surveillance gives you the facts and proof you need about those people you trust with your home, your children, your money, and your life.

Does Surveillance Affect Privacy?

Many people worry that surveillance affects their privacy. Often times, surveillance is a balancing act of security and privacy concerns. Thus, it's important to stay on the right side of the law. New privacy laws mean that surveillance through audio and video equipment as well as other forms of surveillance equipment can be restricted when not performed by a private investigator.

Can I Use Home Surveillance Systems?

If you want security surveillance for your home, home surveillance equipment usually causes very few legal problems. As long as you're not using home surveillance equipment to monitor people without their permission, you can generally use security surveillance equipment to keep your home safe from intruders. If, on the other hand, you are using surveillance techniques or surveillance equipment to observe potentially cheating spouses, potentially dishonest employees, or caretakers, you may be breaking the law.

Who Should Conduct Surveillance?

The best option is to hire a qualified private investigator. A professional investigator is licensed and insured to provide surveillance and to gather evidence through audio and video equipment. Plus, a professional investigator is often the most effective way to observe someone or something. Professional investigators are trained for years in order to be able to track down alleged criminals or uncover dishonesty in any form.

Since private investigators are well-versed in current laws, you don't have to worry about legal impediments when you entrust your surveillance needs to a private investigator. Plus, professional investigators have access to various types of surveillance equipment -- one-way mirrors, specialized equipment, and special vehicles -- that can make surveillance more effective. If surveillance reveals illegal activity, evidence gathered by private investigators often stands up in court much better than evidence gathered by the average citizen.

Or you could commit time researching laws in your area or hiring a lawyer to find out whether your surveillance techniques are legal in your area. Of course, you can always stop surveillance entirely and just hope that the people you trust with your safety and security are, in fact, trustworthy. But let's face it: these alternatives either put you at risk or are expensive.

Brian Blackwell Investigations

If you suspect that your spouse is cheating, that a nanny or babysitter is abusive, or that an employee is dishonest, it can be difficult to concentrate on everyday tasks. Why waste your time, energy, and stay up nights worrying? A single call can put you on the path to learning the truth.

When your intuition tells you that something is wrong, you are usually correct. We provide you with the answers necessary to make sound decisions.

Brian Blackwell Investigations | Seattle, WA

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Private Investigator Basics: Surveillance

Surveillance is the art of watching someone, some place, or some object in order to document and identify any contact, activities and whereabouts. Surveillance is conducted to prevent a crime, to obtain evidence of a crime, to obtain evidence of wrongful action in a civil suit, to document an individual’s location, to document activities in or around a specific location or building, to obtain information to be used in an interrogation,  to gather intelligence as a basis for future action and to obtain information to be used in court.

Types Of Investigations Requiring Surveillance

Missing person, worker’s compensation claim, cheating spouse, vandalism, recurrent theft. 

Types Of Surveillance

The types of surveillance that fit with individual cases vary. Private investigators have to decide which types of surveillance are best suited by understanding the case and the desired outcome of the surveillance. The nature of the case will dictate whether the surveillance will be mechanical or human, whether it will be covert or overt and whether the surveillance will be stationary or mobile.

Mechanical Surveillance verses Human Surveillance

Mechanical surveillance is when technological devices are used to conduct surveillance. This is beneficial because equipment doesn’t get tired, hungry, or bored. Equipment can be used at multiple locations at the same time and information from equipment at different locations can be accessed simultaneously. For example, mechanical surveillance would be used over human in a case where someone is stealing from a construction site. Private investigators can put up cameras and go back and harvest the recordings.

Human surveillance is when the investigative team is the main source of information. Human surveillance includes tailing targets and observing targets in person. If a private investigator is looking for a missing child, they have to start by investigating the usual haunts of the child and personally visiting those locations.

Overt Surveillance verses Covert Surveillance

Overt surveillance is visible security like security agents at the mall and security cameras in casinos. With overt surveillance, people know the surveillance equipment is there to make sure no one is stealing or cheating.

Covert surveillance is undetected surveillance. Undercover detectives usually conduct this type of surveillance. It may involve trailing a target or using a piece of equipment, like a GPS tracking device, on a company truck or automobile without the company or driver’s knowledge (provided it does not violate the laws within that state).

Mobile Surveillance verses Stationary Surveillance

Mobile surveillance, obviously, involves following a moving target. Say a target you are tailing gets in his or her car and drives away, you may want to continue the surveillance by using your automobile.

Stationary surveillance is when the investigator stays in one place to observe the target. If a commercial or residential property is being vandalized, a private investigator may be hired to watch the property from a stationary post, like a parked car, to gain evidence of the crime and who the perpetrator is.

Prepare For Surveillance

Know the client’s needs. What is it that the client is trying to accomplish through surveillance? The answer to this question determines what types of surveillance will be needed, the scope of the project and the types of equipment that will be used. Private investigators have to educate the potential client and manage their expectations as investigations are often more complicated and costly than the client anticipates.

Know The Subject
Before performing surveillance, investigators should always complete a background check with comprehensive records research on the target and acquire as much information as possible about them - name, address, phone number, complete physical description, photograph, and relatives in the immediate vicinity. Private investigators will also want to know pertinent background information such as routines, habits, hobbies, schedules and associates.

Know The Area
Private investigators should always have a map of the area where the surveillance will be taking place. If possible, they should also have a photograph of the building they are watching or the location where surveillance will begin. If surveillance is taking place at night or in the early morning, it’s a good idea to visit the site during various periods of the day and night.

Know Your Equipment
The kind of equipment a private investigator uses is contingent upon the nature of the surveillance itself. Private investigators need to get familiar with their equipment ahead of time and practice with it. If surveillance involves a camera or a video camera, prepared investigators will have two of them with backup batteries. Investigators seldom get a second opportunity to capture an activity.

Every private investigator should have a flashlight for working at night, binoculars or a telescope, a tape recorder, two-way radios for team surveillance, a tripod for security equipment, full tank of gas in the car, appropriate attire, snacks and water.

Know Yourself
Private investigators must do what is necessary to prepare their minds for work, like exercise, get plenty of sleep and have a practiced plan. All private investigators should also to be prepared for a situation where they are approached by a stranger or by the police while conducting surveillance. Always have a convincing story ready to tell.

What Every Investigator Should Know About Surveillance

Surveillance is incredibly demanding and challenging. Private investigators who are successful at surveillance have to possess certain qualities. Someone with an outgoing personality, exceptional communication skills, the ability to take action, a good memory, an ability to blend into their surroundings and a strong attention to detail would be a good fit for surveillance. This person should also be honest, patient, observant, resourceful, flexible and focused. Not every person is able to sit for hours and focus on a particular area. Investigators often sit in an automobile for up to ten hours on the coldest day of winter or the hottest day of summer.

Ethics and Laws Relevant to Surveillance
All private investigators should know the laws that may affect their work in their respective states or face a possible prison sentence. Trespassing and audio recording laws are especially important to know. Laws regarding audio recording vary state to state and some states prohibit covert audio recording.


Surveillance is not always necessary in an investigation. Surveillance adds to an investigation when a visual confirmation of the actions or the whereabouts of the target is necessary to concluding the investigation. If an investigator needs to catch a thief in the act, find and confirm the whereabouts of a missing person, or prove a worker’s compensation claim is false, surveillance is necessary.

Brian Blackwell Investigations | Seattle, WA

** An interesting and eye-opening article on the subject of audio recording Broken Record Laws  


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Skip Tracing / Missing Persons Investigations

Private Investigator Basics: Missing Persons Investigations

Missing persons investigations are the best way to find out the truth about anyone you can't find.

On average, more than 800,000 people are reported missing and are entered into FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC) annually. Of these, 85%-90% are minors. These statistics do not include those who are unofficially missing such as those who have not been reported as missing persons.

One of the big problems with police-led missing persons investigations is simply that the term missing persons is so narrow. Police will only begin looking for a missing child at a specific amount of time after the child was last seen and by that time, it may be too late if the child has been kidnapped by a pedophile or child killer. Police are also reluctant, due to thinning resources, to search for people who voluntarily left home or for those who live on the streets. Even in a police-led missing person investigation, police will stop looking after a certain amount of time and will declare the case a cold case. 

Police do their best with the resources they have, but law enforcement simply is not equipped to deal with the crime rates today. Anyone who wants real answers and fast needs to speak to a private investigator. A professional investigator will start looking for someone as soon as you feel uneasy and will continue to search as long as you are still looking for answers.

Skip Tracing - People Locates

Skip tracing is a process used to find someone who is missing. It generally requires gathering, organizing and analyzing large amounts of data on an individual to make a conclusion about where he or she might be. Private investigators and professional skip tracers typically carry out these activities. Done most commonly to find people to rekindle relationships or handle legal and financial situations.

Skip tracing is an colloquial term used to describe the process of locating a person's whereabouts for any number of purposes. The term comes from the word "skip" being used to describe the person being searched for, and comes from the idiomatic expression "to skip town," meaning to depart, perhaps in a rush, and leaving minimal clues behind for someone to "trace" the "skip" to a new location. 

The days when you went to the phone book, criss-cross directory, or reverse directory are old-school and costly compared to the skip tracing technology options today. In fact, just looking for an address or a phone number isn’t the only thing investigators can ask of technology.

With the advent of technology in general, the availability and quality of information has expanded dramatically. Price can certainly be an issue, but many times the price is very inexpensive when measured to the benefit gained by it.

Professional investigators are hired to find:
  • Long lost loved ones or family members who have voluntarily disappeared or run away
  • Fugitives
  • Missing persons who have been gone a long time and are part of a cold case
  • Runaways and miners who have been kidnapped
Basically, if you are worrying about someone's whereabouts and wish to locate someone who is not easy to find, a qualified missing persons investigator will be able to use advanced techniques to help find the person you are looking for.

Professional investigators use a number of techniques to find missing persons:

  • Networking with fugitive recovery agents, law enforcement, other private investigators, or paying informants. Private investigators often have extensive networks of people they can recruit to help them in a search.
  • Surveillance and videotaping. Investigators can observe places where a missing person is likely to be or can observe and track a suspect in a missing persons case.
  • Searching hospitals and mortuaries. Private investigators can search through a number of facilities where a victim may be.
  • Doing background checks, questioning witnesses, and other investigative techniques. Private investigators can turn to others to isolate likely suspects or likely sources of aid in finding a missing person.

Count on the team at Brian Blackwell Investigations in Seattle, Washington, to provide you with unparalleled skip tracing investigations. Whether you want to track someone down or know if he or she is committing fraud, we are here for you.

Brian Blackwell Investigations | Seattle, WA

Private Investigator Basics: Background Checks

Private investigators perform background checks to verify a person's professional and personal history. A proper background check involves conducting interviews and searching for documents that will give you a greater understanding of the person you are looking into.

Can't I just pay for an online background check?

There are automated background checks available on the Internet, but the information is often incomplete or inaccurate, and each record, whether found through the Internet or another source, needs to be verified for validity. A private investigator can provide detailed and accurate information about a person and ensure that the information is accurate.

There is no standard or routine background check. The investigation should be tailored to your areas of concern, reasons for finding out more, and your overall needs. Whether you're hiring a new employee, looking for a nanny, or are about to make a new investment, it's a good idea to get a better understanding of who or what you will be involved with.

Brian Blackwell Investigations | Seattle, WA

Monday, June 9, 2014

Private Investigator Basics: Interviewing

Investigators interview plaintiffs, defendants, witnesses, victims, suspects, subjects of background investigations and experts.

What Is Interviewing?

Interviewing is the process of gathering facts from people that can then become testimonial evidence.

Types Of Investigations That Require Interviews
Theft, missing persons, background investigations, situations where an expert could be of assistance.

Why Conduct Interviews?
Interviews are conducted to reconstruct a crime or event, to obtain evidence, to look for leads, to identify facts and to find out what actually happened.

Preparing For An Interview

Preparation is the key to conducting a quality interview. An investigative approach for interviewing begins with a prioritized list of witnesses to interview with the major witnesses at the top. A private investigator has to know as much as possible about the statement the witness has given to the authorities and has to know the facts of the case.

Research The Interview Subject
Private investigators must conduct extensive records research and a background check on the interview subject before going to speak with them. Investigators should know basic background information about the witness, like if the witness is related to any of the participants in the event, if the witness wears glasses and if he or she has a criminal record.

Anticipate The Subject’s Needs
Depending on the case, interview subjects will have differing needs. In criminal defense cases people that are witnesses to crimes might fear retaliation or retribution if they step forward. They may fear going against the police. People that are friends or relatives of the crime victim are not going to want to talk to anyone from the defense. Private investigators have to be psychologically prepared for the difficulties of talking to these people and especially for talking to the crime victims themselves. They may be angry and private investigators have to calm them down and get them to share what they are going to say in court or at least to elaborate on what they told the police.

Document The Interview
Notes should always be taken either during or immediately after an interview. Notes can be taken by hand, on an audio recording device or, if the interview subject is willing, on video. A private investigator must build rapport and make the subject feel comfortable enough to allow them to take notes. If the subject gives a very helpful statement that is exculpatory, a private investigator should ask to audio or video record the statement.

What Every Investigator Should Know About Interviewing

Setting Up The Interview
If possible, a private investigator should schedule interviews ahead of time with cooperating witnesses. If not, the investigator should make a cold call visit with interview subjects.

Engage In Active Listening
Private investigators should operate on the 80/20 rule. Interview subjects should be speaking 80% of the time and interviewers should be speaking 20% of the time. Active listening is an important aspect of interviewing as it encourages the flow of information as the interview subject is talking. Private investigators conducting interviews should confirm that they are listening by summarizing back what the interview subject has said.

Build Rapport
Private investigators have to build rapport with interview subjects to earn their trust and get them to open up. This can be accomplished through participating in small talk. Investigators should look for some common ground with the interview subject and start a conversation from there. The key is for the investigator to be able to establish an open communication channel, get some information and leave the door open for a follow-up interview.

Recognize Truth v. Deception
Private investigators should begin interviews with closed questions and slowly shift to open questions which require some more thought. Investigators should start off with basic questions about the subject’s background to which they already know the answers. While the interview subject is answering these questions, private investigators have to watch how they look while giving truthful answers. Later on, when the investigator gets to the meat of the questioning, he or she can recognize constant truthful behavior or a shift in behavior signified by vocal volume, pitch, halted speech, furtive facial gestures or micro-expressions.

Interpreting Non-Verbal Communication
Focusing on these behaviors comes with experience. As a rule of interviewing, innocent people can be calmed down and guilty people generally get very nervous. They begin to display verbal cues discussed above. The interview subject that is guilty or that is lying will also display non-verbal cues like clenching fists, a reddening face, bulging veins and a loss of eye contact.

After An Interview

Finalizing Notes
Private investigators must preserve their interviews by finalizing their notes or transcribing an audio or video recording so that it becomes part of the record. Investigators will then memorialize their notes in a report that includes when the interview occurred, how long it lasted, who was present and where it occurred. The report should describe what information was obtained. If it is an audio or video recording, the information should be documented verbatim, and all notes should be kept until the matter is fully adjudicated as discoverable records.

Follow-Up Interviews
Follow-up interviews are sometimes necessary. If the witness did not give enough information initially, a private investigator would have to return to their home or place of work and continue building rapport until the witness was willing to speak truthfully. When information needs to be memorialized, a private investigator should type up a narrative of the interview and conduct a follow-up. The interview subject should read the narrative, make corrections and sign off on the interview. If an investigator has found an inconsistency between the stories of two different interview subjects, it is a good idea to return to both of these subjects and conduct second interviews. If a private investigator needs further documentary evidence, such as telephone records, that were not available during the first interview, they should follow up with a subject and obtain these records.

New Leads
Subjects may give a private investigator information that leads to a new interview subject that was not initially included in the investigative plan. Whenever an investigator receives a new lead on a possible interview subject they should always follow up on the lead by conducting background research, contacting the new subject and scheduling and completing an interview. Private investigators should follow the same steps when preparing for, conducting and finalizing a follow-up interview as they would for the initial interview.


Interviewing is vital to many investigations because it gives a verbal confirmation of an event. In cases where a one time occurrence is being investigated, interview subjects are often the only people who saw what actually happened. This type of information is called testimonial evidence and can be invaluable in court, especially when combined with documentary evidence found during records research.

Brian Blackwell Investigations | Seattle, WA

Friday, June 6, 2014

Public Records Search

What are public records searches?

The government creates public documents or records to record significant events in a person's life. Events such as a marriage, a judgment in court, a home purchase, and military service are common examples of public records. When investigating a company or an individual, consulting these records through searches can be one of the best ways to outline someone’s background and history.

What kind of records can I view or access via a public records search?

Common searches in public records investigations include:
  • Driving records
  • Credit records
  • Property records
  • Court records
  • Records relating to bankruptcies and judgments
  • Criminal records
  • Prison records
  • Records that list assets
  • Financial records
  • Marriage records
Depending on the case, documents relating to employment, military service, and name changes can also be searched. Qualified private investigators can search records listed under aliases and international records as well.

What can public records searches do for me?

There are many ways records searches can be useful. For example, public records searches are an important part of criminal background checks, background checks, and private investigations. They can reveal a person’s past and if they are really who they appear to be. Moreover, they can help you find out what others are trying to hide. These searches are also key in pre-employment screenings and criminal investigations. Any time you need to know about someone’s background, public records are a good way to get reliable information. They can even be used to research genealogy and family history.

Why hire a private investigator to do a records search?

A private investigator can be hired for many reasons. Whether you are an individual, law firm, or corporation, a private investigator will know the best way to collect information and obtain original records. They use records searches in nearly all investigations types and will be able to quickly and efficiently gather information. Individuals may want to find out if a spouse is unfaithful, they may have private business concerns and want to check an employee’s background, or they may be an individual looking for their birth parents.

Law firms may want to locate a witness to conduct an interview or they may need to serve a subpoena on that individual. They may know about an heir that needs to be contacted. They might want to find assets and to also investigate the veracity of a claims in a lawsuit. Corporations may want to perform undercover fraud assessment or perhaps competitive intelligence. They hire private investigators to conduct pre-employment research for them. They may also use investigators to determine the compliance with governmental regulations as well as research copyright and privacy issues.

Can't I just use free records searches online?

There are plenty of online companies that promise free records searches. Others offer very inexpensive records searches, sometimes for less than $20. All such free and inexpensive options promise to be fast and effective.While these options may sound tempting, there are plenty of reasons why you will want to avoid them. First, many of these companies rely on outdated or incomplete information, which means that you may end up with inaccurate or incomplete information. Second, some of these companies charge hidden fees or have poor privacy policies, which means that you may end up paying more for these free online records searches than you thought. Third, many of these companies use less than professional methods for gathering information. Fourth, and finally, all this means that you may end up with overpriced and useless information when using these online and free public records investigation tools. Worse, you may find yourself in trouble thanks to the less-than-scrupulous ways these companies look for information.

Do I need original records?

Whether you are using it for a written research report or as a piece of the documentary evidence that may be used in litigation, the best evidence is in the original document. You will need a certified copy of the record in question, otherwise it could be challenged.

Brian Blackwell Investigations | Seattle, WA

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Private Investigator Basics: Records Research

There are three core competencies of private investigation: records research, interviews, and surveillance. Not every investigation is going to involve surveillance, and not every investigation is going to involve interviewing, but every investigation will have some form of records research. In fact, some investigations are just research. Records research is the locating of public and private records. The research is a tool for gathering information to support or oppose a point of view.

Records Research Basics Process

Every investigative assignment has its own nuances regarding research. Depending on the nature of the investigation you will be searching different databases, so investigators should constantly be learning about different database repositories.

Four Major Steps of Records Research:

Step 1: Determine the Client's Needs

Research is contingent upon what the client’s needs are,so the first question to ask is what is it that you are looking for? This will help you identify what the client wants you to research and helps you identify the scope of work.

A prudent private investigator will determine what the client will do with the information before they undertake any investigation. Never conduct research that could be used in an inappropriate manner against anybody.

Step 2: Develop an Investigative Plan

After we’ve determined the client’s needs, we put together an investigative plan that will identify specific investigative tasks and documents to look for. We'll also establish and include an operating budget and cost estimate with our investigative plan so that there’s accountability that will ensure that the investigation is done in an effective and efficient manner. Once we have put together the investigative plan, we’ll have an investigative proposal to present to the client, and we’ll know what the end result is going to be.

Step 3: Internet Research

A lot of records research usually begins with the Internet. The Internet has made it easier to begin an investigation. The research is easier, it’s a quick starting point to narrow the search, and private investigators become more effective and more efficient with use of the internet. We don’t want to be swimming in the ocean of information, nor do we want to be in the lake. We want to be in the pond.

Private investigators use the Internet to get leads on possible original records through contemporary providers of online public records databases. Once we find that the records exist, we'll go to the actual record-keeping database and get a copy of the original record.

Step 4: Obtaining Original Records

An original record is the document that contains the information that we may be looking for. Original documents are birth records, marriage records, business records, etc. The original records are not available on the Internet, but we may learn where to go for those original records during that search.

Original records are either at the city, county, state, national, and even international levels. Why do investigators need original records? If we are going to provide a written research report that will contain the results of our research, the best evidence is the original document. The record becomes a piece of the documentary evidence that may be used in litigation. You will need a certified copy of the record in question, otherwise it could be challenged.

Public verses Private

Depending on the state, public records include address information, birth and marriage records, and criminal records like divorce proceedings. Private records are something that private investigators have limited access to. In order to get an individual’s medical, tax, credit, prior employment, and educational records, a private investigator will need authorization in the form of a waiver from the individual.

Private records are non-original records, and the copies are stored in databases for retrieval and access later. These would be publications, subscription databases, and non-subscription databases.


Each of the three core competencies of private investigation plays a critical role in working through an investigation. As a valuable tool, records research helps investigators get more information and a clearer picture of the individual or situation they are investigating. Combining that knowledge with interviewing and the basics of surveillance helps investigators hone their skills and become more effective in the field.

Brian Blackwell Investigations | Seattle, WA

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Know Your Subject & Be Prepared For Challenges

A proper surveillance operation not only requires that you use other operatives to help prevent you from being detected, but also requires that you study your Subject before beginning the surveillance. Knowing your Subject before the operation can help you to stay one step ahead of them. Making your operation go much smoother.

You should be prepared for whatever the person you are following throws your way. When he or she changes appearance, it usually means they suspect they are being followed, which means you have to change your tactics or risk being discovered. You have to be just as cunning as them.

Watching your Subject from a distance isn't always enough. You sometimes have to follow them into a place of business and sometimes end up coming face-to-face with them. When this happens, you then have one of two options: you can go about your way, or use the situation to your advantage. Having a well rehearsed ruse can help you to gain useful information from the target.

As a private investigator, you have to be prepared for whatever challenges come your way.

Brian Blackwell Investigations | Seattle, WA