So You Want to be a Private Investigator?

The helicopter roars in.

Magnum PI jumps from the chopper before it lands. He rolls and leaps on the Arch-Villain set on World domination and wrestles nuclear detonator from his hands with seconds to spare before annihilation. Magnum smiles at the camera with the trademark one eyebrow up, quips “all in a day’s work” and drives off into the Hawaiian sunset behind the wheel of his red Ferrari.

This is how many of us imagine the world of a Private Investigator.

While the make-believe world of Magnum PI made for fun Saturday night TV and brought much attention to the PI world, I think we can safely say it wasn’t necessarily reflective of the day to day real life of today’s Private Investigator. So, what’s it really like to be a PI? How does a person get into this profession? In the next few weeks Kusic and Kusic Investigations will interview some of the top people and firms in the business and find out the truth behind this fascinating yet often misunderstood industry.

In Part One of our series on the World of Private Investigation we will be staying close to home while we interview one of the Industries highly respected PI’s: Heath Tompkins.

Heath is the Operations Manager of the Kusic and Kusic firm and has been in the industry for over 27 years! Mr. Tompkins’ job is comprised planning daily investigative operations, strategizing our investigations and supervising our field investigators as well as personally tailing subjects during surveillance operations.

Q: What do you feel is the most important quality a person must possess in order to be a successful Private Investigator?

There are several important qualities to be a successful PI…. here are my top 3: Patience, exceptional observation skills, and thinking outside the box.

Q: What first attracted you the field of Private Investigation?

Watching Magnum PI as a teen of course……. why wouldn’t that show attract any male teen?
But to be honest, this was the top stepping stone in my longer career path. I started in Security and was promoted through various positions and ended up as a Supervisor. I took my next step forward and moved into loss prevention as a loss prevention officer and spent a few years in that field.
I reached what I consider the top step and became a private investigator approximately 27 years ago, and I have never looked back.

Q: Is a PI license difficult to obtain?

Back when I became a private investigator there were no courses available to take. However, the firm that hired me saw potential and they put me through a one on one private investigator course. I found the course helpful but working the job on a day to day basis is where an investigator really learns and gain their core skills.

Today, though, the investigations industry is a lot more stringent in terms of education and a lot more training and education is available – thankfully! Up and coming investigators can actually check out the introductory licensing info on our website

Q: Bored to Death, Sherlock, Republic of Doyle, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency….it seems like in 2016, Private Investigation is gaining popularity again.
How is your job different from the movies? And to mix it up, what do movies get right about being a PI?

To be honest there are very few movies or TV shows that properly portray a private investigator in Canada. A lot of the job just wouldn’t “film” well – audiences would be bored with a lot of sitting and waiting and this is where the patience and observation skills really come into play.

Movies and TV shows are dramatizing the PI. There’s always lots of action right away followed by unrealistic “car-chase” versions of tailing. There are usually weapons involved as well; completely opposite to our job.
We show up and usually sit for hours before there is any activity. If we get lucky and the target moves, we follow silently and without detection and the only shooting done is with a video camera.

Q: It feels like some of the biggest shake-ups to the PI industry in the 21st century is the use of the internet and social media as an investigative tool. Have tech developments changed much about your day-to-day job?

I don’t tend to personally do cyber investigation; my speciality lies more in traditional surveillance and investigative operations strategy. However, we do have that service in our office and I do require it on many of our investigations. Social media, specifically, is a very helpful tool as it gives us a better understanding as to who are subjects are and it is incredibly helpful as a “prep” tool prior to an investigation.

And the more prep, the better.

Q: How do you see the PI Industry changing over the next 5-10 years?

In the next 5-10 years, I see the PI industry growing at a steady pace. Internet and social media will be a big part of this growth. Technology is changing the way we can Investigate…drones and trackers are exciting new technologies that we feel will improve our abilities to provide better intel for our clients, Laws around privacy are changing as well….I think we will see vast changes in the near future that will only enhance our ability to deliver.

Q: Tailing a person for a client is a staple of both detective and spy movies – what are some tips/techniques you can share with our audience? What are some rules to the practice that might surprise people?

In spy movies, the detective is usually sitting in the front seat of a sports car directly out front of the person’s home. A good PI should drive an average looking vehicle – almost “boring” — with tinted back windows so you can sit in the back seat undetected.

A good PI will be setup down the street from the target and give the target plenty of room when they depart. When tailing a target, there are many tricks such as: never follow too close and try and stay in the opposite traffic lane as your target. Having ways to change your appearance is also helpful such as a bag with extra clothing like hats, different eye ware, safety vest and hard hat etc. You really have to be creative and prepare for the unexpected.

Q: What do you most/least enjoy about the profession?

I enjoy the challenge of the job. The drive to follow the target without detection and get the results the client is looking for is something all good investigators possess.
I used to say the least thing I enjoyed with this profession was the waiting, however you slowly get better and better at dealing with that.

A big thanks to Operations Manager Heath for taking the time to answer our questions! If you’re interested in following in Heath’s footsteps and becoming a licensed BC Private Investigator, take the next step and check out our video on how to become a PI:

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