In most instances, it helps private investigators if police are strapped for time and resources. It’s kind of their business model.
“For stalking cases or people vandalizing homes, a police officer may not work at 10 o’clock or midnight watching somebody’s house to see if somebody’s going to vandalize their home,” said Jeff Stein, president of the Pennsylvania Association of Licensed Investigators. “They have other things that they need to work on, so private investigators are retained to do those types of surveillances and investigations.”
But independent detectives are looking to Pennsylvania these days for a little help policing their own. Licenses are issued at the county level under the state’s Private Detective Act of 1953. Stein said counties’ interpretation of the law can be inconsistent and flat-out wrong. Some counties have ignored the prohibition against granting active law enforcement officers private investigator licenses, according to Stein.
“Anybody who is an active police officer has access to data that private investigators do not,” Stein said, “and now you’re kind of crossing the lines a little bit, giving them access to some information that maybe they shouldn’t be allowed to have.”
PALI tries to monitor licenses and work with counties to revoke licenses that shouldn’t have been awarded, but the group still prefers a statewide board as a gatekeeper. Stein said he’s looking for lawmakers to sponsor an update to the 1953 law that will create a centralized license board.
“Explain to me why a masseuse – and I’m not degrading that profession at all – but just explain to me why they’re licensed out of a centralized board in Harrisburg,” said Stein.