Case Studies in Commitment

What went right, what went wrong? I apply this to cases good and bad. Let’s take a gander at success and failure.

I had two recent successful outcomes in surveillance. One case was a client wanting to know what her husband was doing when he withdrew a couple hundred bucks from the bank at ATMs in San Francisco. She had previously hired an investigator who illegally used GPS on her husband’s work vehicle. (California law only only allows for someone to use GPS on a vehicle if the reg and title is in their name.) The other PI used the real-time GPS and still could not get results.

I told her that this would require two separate PIs, me and another detective. The first time he drove like a madman from the East Bay into SF and we lost him. The second time he never left work. The third time, we followed him into San Francisco and found that, during the day, he was going to one of his old haunts where he scored drugs. She heeded my advice and we found what he was doing. We could not have followed him without the second investigator. She/we committed and got results.

Another case was a woman wanting to know whether her partner, the father of their child, was being faithful to her. I went out on him three or four times, no activity. The final time she called me a couple days ahead of time. I followed him, to the cheating side of town, after he dropped off thier kid to her place. He drove like a demon but I went bulldog-mode. It was a sushi date!

Another case involved a divorce matter from Missouri. A PI in Missouri brought me into the case, and I contracted with another investigator for the three of us to follow the woman when she and her paramour arrived at San Francisco Airport. We could not have followed them from the airport without the three private dicks working as a team. The client back in the Show Me State took the advice of the first PI and committed the necessary financial and manpower resources.

The bad. I had a family law case. The client wanted me to follow the spouse , a convicted drug trafficker, to see what he was doing when he was with their child. I got on his tail when he dropped the child at daycare one morning. It was rush hour and I had no choice but to cling tight. He made me and gave chase. My mistake? I was not forceful enough with the client to insist on a second or even a third operative. Police use rolling surveillance teams but budget is an issue in the private sector.

I had a case to serve deposition subpoenas on two witnesses in a civil action. The client offered a small retainer. I put in multiple hours, well over the retainer, to try to get the one witness. The roadblocks were twofold: the witnesses were looking over their shoulders because of what they had done and the client had previously unsuccessfully used a process server. I had the client pay another retainer but it was more of the same. People who are guilty and who know they are going to be served will go to great lengths to avoid service. My mistake? Not telling the client the potential for how hard this was going to be.

One of my former bosses, Jack Immendorf of San Francisco, once told me, “When you work a case, you don’t want to be thinking about the money and should only have doing the job right on your mind.” Jack is a wise man and in many ways the dean of San Francisco private eyes. True dat, Jack, true dat!

Commitment is a two-way street, from the client and to the investigator. The phrases I dislike most from clients: “It shouldn’t be that hard” or “It will be easy.” I have done this work long enough to assume nothing. I will listen to my inner-voice more and steer clients away from attempts on the cheap.