Detective agencies are businesses which provide investigation services to clients. There are a number of reasons why someone might want to work with a detective agency, ranging from a desire to locate someone to concerns that a police force has lost interest in the investigation of a case. Many large cities have several detective agencies, and detectives may be willing to take on jobs which require traveling or long distance work by request when a client lacks a local agency to work with.
The employees of a detective agency are typically fully licensed private detectives. Some come from a law enforcement background, opting to pursue detective work after leaving a position with a law enforcement agency. Others have trained and worked in detective agencies throughout their careers. In addition to licensed detectives, the agency may also have secretaries and other staff members who act as support staff to assist the detectives in their work.
When clients approach a detective agency, they are matched with a detective who will provide assistance. The detective may meet with the clients several times to gather information from them and determine the goals of the investigation, and then she or he will set out on investigative work. While many people associate sitting in cars with cameras with detective work, the kind of work a detective agency does is quite varied.
Detective agencies may access as many legal, financial, and other records as they can in pursuit of someone. For example, if a client is looking for someone, the agency might attempt to track that person, using the person's last known contact information. Detective agencies also conduct interviews with people of interest and do lots of other types of research to get a complete picture of the situation. Once a staffer has gathered the information, it will be packaged and presented to the client. Sometimes, little to no information is available.
Detective agencies try to stay within the law, although there are some legal gray areas which may be debatable. There are certain activities which private detectives cannot conduct, such as looking through government databases, and sometimes an agency maintains contacts with a law enforcement agency to assist in investigations. It is also not legal to knowingly assist in an illegal act, such as helping a fugitive escape justice. If a private detective violates the law, his or her license may be revoked or suspended by the licensing agency.