There are two main types of investigations: Public investigations and private investigations. They are both conducted regularly but by different stakeholders and for different purposes. Individuals who are not familiar with the two can confuse them, not fully understanding what their target is. The aims of a public and a private investigation may differ depending on the country; there are scenarios where a private investigator will work for the public interest. 

Private investigation vs public investigation: Who works for who?

A public investigator works for government entities such as the police department, intelligence agencies or regulatory bodies to investigate criminal or administrative matters that affect public interests. To put it simply, police officers are considered public investigators. Public investigators are expected to abide by the law and collect evidence to build cases that will benefit society as a whole. They are responsible for protecting public safety and upholding the justice system and they cannot be paid by citizens to conduct their investigations. Such an action could be referred to as a ‘bribe’. 

On the other hand, a private investigator is someone who could be hired by individuals, businesses, law firms or insurance companies to investigate various types of issues that may not necessarily involve public interests. This could include a company hiring one or more people to carry out a workplace investigation into fraud or colleague harassment. Private investigators are legally authorised to collect evidence, such as conducting interviews, and research so they can provide their clients with detailed reports or witness testimonies. 

Private investigators have to follow about the same legal and ethical standards as public investigators, but their work is limited to cases that do not exceed the boundaries of civil law. They often have to work discreetly and maintain the confidentiality of those involved in the cases. They have to obtain accurate information and remain unbiased at every step of the process. 

private investigation

Differences between a private investigation and a public investigation

Now that it is clear what the investigators do, it is time to understand what makes a public investigation different from a public one. Their main areas of difference are:

  1. Purpose
  2. Access to resources
  3. Size of the investigation
  4. Publicity
  1. Purpose 

The purpose of a private investigation is to gather information that is difficult for the clients

 to obtain on their own, either due to a lack of resources or other limitations. They often work on cases related to matrimonial and family issues, missing persons, corporate fraud, insurance claims, and intellectual property infringements, among others. A company may hire a private investigator due to the need for an unbiased individual who has experience in the industry and can conduct an impartial investigation quickly and efficiently. This will allow employees to focus on their own tasks and they will not have to worry about something outside their abilities. 

However, the purpose of a public investigation is to hold individuals or organisations accountable for any wrongdoing that has occurred. Public investigations are utilised in serious cases, such as crimes committed by public officials, institutional corruption, or allegations of gross negligence. It is important to remember that in a public investigation, such as an abduction, there could be both a private and public investigator who is responsible for the case. This rule may vary depending on the country. 

  1. Access to resources

Access to resources can vary between private investigations and public investigations. In public investigations, depending on the country, there may be government agencies involved such as the police and FBI, that have access to a wide range of resources, including forensic labs, databases and surveillance tools. These agencies have legal authority to gather information through search warrants, court orders and other legal means. The police can quickly certify information and even though it varies by area, they can ask an individual to identify themselves if they suspect that a crime is being committed. 

In private investigations, investigators, do not have access to these same resources. They have limited capabilities in the sense that they need to obtain consent to gain certain evidence (such as audio evidence) and they do not have access to sensitive information (such as bank accounts and phone records). While police officers can get warrants, private investigators may not be able to. This means that they can be charged with crimes, such as stalking or trespassing if they ignore the laws. 

  1. Size of the investigation

Depending on the severity of the public problem, during a public investigation police officers or other officials may arrest an individual. It could be something small, such as a public disturbance that can take a few hours to investigate, or something bigger, such as a company fraud and corruption that could take months to finalise. A private investigation is usually smaller in size and an investigator cannot make an arrest. They can however offer evidence to the police, (that was obtained legally) which can lead to an arrest. 

  1. Publicity

In a public investigation, the police may ask for the help of the public to speed up the process. Search teams, witnesses or surveillance may be called forward to provide more insight into the case. The media may also be involved, sharing details and updates on the progress. 

This is the total opposite of a private investigation. Private investigations tend to be discreet and attract as little attention as possible. Especially for private investigations in workplaces, an ideal scenario would be one where employees did not even notice that an investigation is being conducted. Private investigators only work with those involved in the process and do not look for external assistance or to publicise their work. Just like with every case, there are some that may be the exception. 

  1. Funding

As mentioned before, public investigations are conducted by a government body (e.g. the police, FBI or other agencies). This means that the funding for the investigation comes from the government which includes taxpayer money. On the other hand, private investigations are funded by the individual who ordered the investigation. This is one of the reasons public investigations can incur higher costs compared to private investigations. 

Faster and better

Polonious assists private investigators along with HR and admin teams to carry out a successful and efficient investigation. We help them set up automated updates, progress notifications and conduct interviews online. Our system keeps all files securely stored in one place so they can be accessed easily, only by those who have permission. Are you looking for faster turnaround times and less administrative costs? Reach out and we will show you what we can do!