Real-Life Private Investigation is Not as Glamorous as It Looks on Television

Private detectives and investigators

Being a private investigator might seem like a glamorous and exciting job. After all, Sherlock Holmes, Thomas Magnum, Emerson Cod, and Shawn Spencer are interesting characters, right? But that is on television, and in real life, the lives and careers of private detectives and investigators are very different from how they are portrayed on the big or small screen.

  • Surveillance –
    A lot of great dialogue always seems to happen during surveillance or stakeout scenes in the movies. Then the subject shows his face, and the action picks up.

    It’s not quite that exciting in real life. Real-life investigators spend long hours sitting in a vehicle on extremely hot or cold days (without the engine running — exhaust fumes or a puddle of water under the car from the air conditioning is a dead giveaway) waiting for someone who may not even leave the house that day.
  • Night Owls –
    Onscreen P.I.s always seem to be staked out at night, hidden among the shadows, watching their subject through brightly-light, uncovered windows.

    In reality, private investigators need to be morning people. If they’re following a subject who starts their day at 5 a.m., the P.I.’s day starts at 3 a.m.
  • The Perfect Shot –
    The investigators you see on TV or in the movies always seem to get the perfect close-up, detailed, incriminating shot that’s able to nail their subject.

    If only real-life were that simple. But real life involves bad lighting, lack of focus, no clear face shot, equipment malfunction, window reflection, etc. A P.I.’s whole day can rest on his ability to take that shot, and if he doesn’t get it, that’s a waste of a day.
  • Dramatic Car Chases –
    Onscreen detectives and investigators are often involved in dramatic car chases through town, after their subject.

    In real life, it’s much more like when you’re following a friend somewhere and they make it through a traffic light and you don’t. Following someone through heavy downtown traffic without getting close enough for them to notice you is quite difficult.
  • Social Life –
    Onscreen, investigators always have a very active social life, getting involved in wacky adventures, going on dates, and entertaining all sorts of members of the opposite sex.

    However, real-life private investigation does not involve much of a social life. Detectives and investigators are always on call, don’t know when the file they’re on is going to end, and are busiest when much of the world is not. There’s no way to make and keep plans, when your subject might suddenly be on the move, with no signs of stopping.

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