Everyone (and Every Case) Has a Story
- October 30, 2017
- by Kimberly Hamilton
Throughout the course of our careers, a private investigator’s education is a continuous and interesting journey. We attend dozens of training seminars, classes, and conferences every year on topics such as surveillance, counter-intelligence, forensics, fraud, ethics, background checks, and other related subjects. Our individual state regulating departments expand our knowledge quests by requiring us to stay well informed on the practices, procedures, and laws for obtaining and renewing our investigative licenses.
PI’s seek out information on the latest technology, the newest cameras, and other equipment to improve the quality of our work we provide to our clients. We discover new resources, software, and services that will make our jobs more effective and efficient. We diligently network with fellow PI’s on social media, join email groups, attend meetings to share information, and join state and national associations. The how-tos, must-dos, and don’t-dos for conducting a professional and thorough investigation are readily available, easily obtainable, and cover just about every aspect of this profession.
But I think there is one area that is often overlooked or disregarded as education and not placed high enough on the relevance scale as it should be when conducting investigations. It is not a hands-on, instruction manual, fact-finding- mission type subject, but it is an important one nonetheless. It is that behind every case we conduct, there is a person who has a story.
That person may be our client, a subject of our case, or another individual involved in the case. One person, many people, children, and families may be involved in some way. Their stories began weeks, months, even years before our investigation and will continue long into the future once the retainer is depleted and our final reports are submitted.
Their story may be one of hardship, misfortune, a history of bad decisions and choices, rough childhoods, abuse, or illegal activities. The stories might involve being taken advantage of, mistreatment, being wronged or victimized, or maybe just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Whether we acknowledge a person and their story or not, the stories still exist and can have a vital role in our investigations. There is no training or requirement when conducting investigations to learn about a person and get an insight on their history and story. In fact, I would venture to say that some PI’s would argue and state that our job is to find facts, remain objective, and keep all our personal feelings and opinions out of the investigation. I agree 100%, but for the investigation, not the entire case.
Even though investigations are based on finding the facts and the truth, that does not mean we should withhold compassion or empathy from our work or our clients. We simply need to learn to keep both sides separate throughout the course of the investigation but also understand how one can enhance the other and contribute to a much more successful investigation.
Our clients and subjects are real people with real life issues requiring the need for some type of investigation. Bad things happen to good people. Good people make bad choices. Life can throw us curve balls when we are not looking or are prepared to handle. A person’s life, habits, and character consists of so much more than the handful of hours we interact with them over a relatively short period of time.
These people are someone’s son, daughter, wife, husband, brother, sister, best friend, grandmother, nephew, high school buddy, future spouse, and so on. They have families that they love, and people who love and care for them dearly. They have jobs, kids, pets, dreams, goals, fears, homes, crazy families, health issues, and other factors that have accompanied them to where they are in life at this moment.
Long after we complete our jobs and move on to the next case, the reasons and the results of the investigation do not disappear or are magically fixed. Their lives with all its combined elements still exist. We come along to assist for a brief moment in someone’s story and knowing their story, or a portion of it, can make a difference in the quality of services we provide to them.
I believe that knowing a person’s story, or merely acknowledging and keeping in mind that a story does exist, can lead to a more thorough and successful investigation. The actual investigation can remain fact and truth based but can be energized and enhanced by knowing there is more to it. This acknowledgment can also eliminate any judgment, bias, or assumptions that may develop or interfere with the case while also keeping the investigator strongly focused and determined to uncover all the facts and explore all the options.
I am not suggesting we spend hours getting to know someone or spend time as friends. I do think it is important and beneficial to everyone if we do learn about the person and who they really are. Investigations, like holidays, in my opinion, have become too commercialized and profit-driven and less personal and meaningful.
One thing to remember is that our work can be both objective and subjective. Think of the case as a separate entity from the physical investigation. The investigation itself can be objective by remaining unbiased while obtaining the facts and discovering the truth, and the case can be subjective by understanding and respecting the significance of the investigation in relation to someone’s story and the events necessitating the investigation.
Our investigations can lead to the end marriages or relationships, send people to prison, be the cause of financial gain or loss, or alter someone’s life forever. Knowing a person and their story adds to the importance of how critical our work is and how imperative it is we conduct a professional, ethical, and completely thorough investigation from beginning to end. It gives our work a deeper meaning and higher value, not just a purpose or paycheck.
Over the past several years, I have been more selective and inquisitive about the cases I conduct. To me, this profession is much more than that paycheck; it is a way of helping people transition out of uncertainty and finding some answers when life isn’t going as planned. And I believe that the “everyone has a story” philosophy can be applied to any profession as well as within our personal lives. One of the biggest problems this world has right now is the lack of taking the time to understand one another and the lack of compassion felt towards others.
In my recently published book, Missions & Mayhem: The Adventures of a Female Private Investigator, I share stories of individuals and cases, but more of the crazy, wild, inspiring and feel-good stories that go hand in hand with this line of work. And trust me, there are plenty of these not-so-ordinary moments. I possess one of those pesky personalities or auras or whatever you like to call it that attracts all kinds of adventurous circumstances, people, and events just about everywhere I go.
One of the chapters in the book, appropriately titled “Everyone Has a Story” is about a homeless man I met while serving some legal documents and not related to the actual case I was working in any way. I simply walked up to him, sat down, and asked, “so, what’s your story?”. This one afternoon had a huge impact on my career and personal life and I am so grateful for the experience and how it changed my thinking in a positive way.
I was not expecting the life lesson that followed on a downtown bench sitting next to this man. He openly and honestly told me his heartbreaking story of drug addiction, losing his family and business, and giving up hope of returning to a happier life. He changed my way of perceiving others in ways I cannot put into words.
However, I can express and share how grateful I am for this man and how he taught me the significance of never, ever forgetting that everyone has a story. I have met some of the most amazing and wonderful people, through both work and my personal life, by keeping in mind that a person is more than what they appear to be or are going through at that moment. Each person has a unique, powerful, and amazing story to tell and all that is required to discover it is taking the time and asking, “so what’s your story?”.
Kimberly Hamilton has been a licensed private investigator for nearly 18 years and is the owner of Female Agents, Inc. in North Carolina. She is also a certified criminal defense investigator and is a former law enforcement officer. She teaches classes on Human Trafficking, Service of Process, and Professional Ethics, and is a former Board Member of NCAPI and NCAPPS.