Claude Bookout is President of United Investigations International, a private investigations firm located in Austin, Texas. ( Texas license number: C9472

Blog updated monthly.

United International Investigations is an experienced private investigations firm with a reputation for integrity, dependability, and thoroughness. The firm provides its clients with a broad range of investigative assistance. Corporations, law firms, and prominent individuals have relied on its professional team of investigators to obtain power and control over their particular situations.

Help your private investigator save fuel, and you money

It appears that near-$4 gas prices are here to stay. Who knows, they may even go higher. If this is the case, all of us are going to feel the squeeze. But this does not mean that we can avoid uncovering spousal or domestic-partner infidelity, identifying employee misconduct among mobile workers, locating and serving subpoenas, documenting workers’ compensation fraud, and so on. It simply means, unfortunately, we must make (sometimes painful) adjustments to our habits in order to do business in an economy with higher energy costs.

Private investigators are feeling the pinch too. The cost of operating a private investigations business requires ongoing continuing education, state licensing, liability and auto insurance, office rent, database fees, advertising, and so on. High fuel costs, just like in most professions and business, means less money to pay for unforeseen personal or business-related expenses. Investigators have always charged money for travel expenses related to the cost of an investigation, but this only partly recaptures the full expense of vehicle wear and tear and fuel. In short, the investigators and their clients share the expenses related to “mileage fees.” However, due to high fuel costs, many investigators have been unable to absorb all of the additional expense and have had to raise their mileage rates, or institute special surcharged fuel prices go above $4 per gallon. This unfortunately is not good for the client, and therefore not good for an investigators long-term business interests.

In this blog, I would like to share with readers what they can do to save money. By working to save money for themselves, I believe clients will also help the investigator save fuel and vehicle maintenance. Though the tactics below may cost the investigator a few hours of surveillance time—savings passed onto the client—any lost surveillance or investigative work will be offset by saving on fuel. By sharing some strategies that will help our clients money, investigators will not only use less fuel (hey, it’s good for the environment), but will have better investigative outcomes. Thus, by heeding the three pieces of advice below, we believe our clients will help us create a win-win situation.

1.      Gather intelligence. Investigators need good intelligence to do their jobs well. The more intelligence you gather regarding a person’s behaviors and the context of their actions, the less time and travel the investigator will need to invest in establishing the parameters of the investigation. Often clients think they have good intelligence, but they incorrectly recall details or simply just draw upon the investigative subject’s recent practices. This often leads to fallacies of causation or generalization. In a domestic case, for example, a suspicious spouse may recall a recent event that seemed odd. However, his or her suspicions only seem to exaggerate the details. Let’s suppose a husband, for example, returns home two hours later than usual. This does not necessarily mean he was meeting someone. On that particular day, he may have had a post-work doctor’s appointment. By taking a few weeks to systematically record a spouse’s practices, a client may help an investigator avoid the need to establish random surveillances following, in this example, the husband after work. By observing daily practices, routines will become known. Since we are creatures of habit and routine, anomalies in routines become some of the best times to conduct surveillances. The same occurs in business. By looking at data and then correlating it to employees’ workdays, a client can help an investigator see patterns and identify which mobile employees ought to be followed. This will significantly reduce travel that would come with following all mobile employees for some time. In short, the more intelligence a client can provide the better chances that an investigator will spend fewer hours in the field.

  1. Don’t skimp on money up front. Investigations can be expensive. Foremost, good investigators want to help clients get what they paid for, and if a good investigator is a good businessperson, he or she will also want the client to feel that she or he got a good deal. Referrals and reassignment is far less expensive than obtaining new clients through advertising. A good investigation, however, does require (as noted above) quality intelligence, which costs money. If you try to cut costs by not allowing the investigator to check, for example, vehicle registrations of a targets’ known associates. If you try to cut costs by avoiding the use of a tracking GPS on a company car or spouse’s vehicle (note: there are legal nuances so you should never do this without consulting an investigator), then the cost of the investigation may increase over time. For example, let’s imagine a frequent scenario where the investigator is following a target from one location to a potential meeting place with his or her paramour. Sometimes an investigator will need to stop a traffic light that the target was able to get through. If, for example, the investigator knows where the potential paramour lives—because of a background search on known colleagues—then the investigator can deduce from driving patterns where the target may be going. If the investigator already knows the potential paramour’s address, he or she has an increased chance of relocating the vehicle and getting quality surveillance video. If, however, the client forgoes such up front data gathering, then the investigator may spend time driving around with the hope of relocating a vehicle. In addition, surveillance may have to be rescheduled, increasing fuel use and additional hours of billable time.  

  1. Follow your investigator’s advice.  This piece of advice is related to the second. It is probably some of the most important advice a client can receive, but often the most challenging to accept. Emotions run high in domestic investigations, so it is easy to want to confront a potential cheating domestic partner or spouse. Businesses want to quickly rid themselves of a suspicious employee. Being patient during surveillance is not always easy. However, it is important a client listen to the investigator, not because she or he she is always right, but because she or he has the best intelligence. A client cannot see what is going on during fieldwork. Getting too involved can create problems both for the client and the investigator. The great unknown for everyone is the target’s practices. Ideally, the investigator would be able to predict movement and establish a surveillance point just before the target moves. This way, the investigator is not spending 8 hours in the field waiting for a target’s movement. Intelligence can help close this gap, but it cannot fully close it. A client may think that surveillance is only going to be a few hours. But let’s say the target spends more time at work, or does not, on the first day, go to anticipated places. Or let’s assume the target engages in less public (and therefore less observable to the investigator) behavior. If a client micromanages or does not take the advice of the investigator, then he or she may pull the investigator away from a surveillance. In most circumstances, the client will want another surveillance to occur at a later time. Every time surveillances start and stop, the investigator has to travel to and from her or his office. All of this increases fuel usage and the cost of an investigation. If an investigator advises you to wait, then do so; it will cost you a bit more money then, but a lot less in the end.
The above pieces of advice will definitely work toward helping save the fuel costs associated with an investigation. Nothing is more important than honest and open communication between an investigator and his or her client, though. You should feel comfortable with your investigator. If you do not, choose an investigator with whom you do. Each investigator has his or her own approaches to doing investigating and operating his or her business.  There are many of us available to serve your needs, so shop around. If you happen to be in the Austin area, I’d, of course, appreciate your business. If you think you may have trouble covering the costs of an investigation, speak with an investigator. Often she or he has savvy ideas to help reduce investigative expenses for a client. So call an investigator today to discuss the particulars of your case and see what kind investigation can be conducted with few stops at the gas pump.