For many, the traditional picture of a private investigator conjures up an image of someone dressed in a dark overcoat and fedora who sneaks around in the dead of night.
Well, it’s 2020, and times have changed the nature of the information-gathering process for detectives in a number of ways.
Technological advancements are just one of many things that can be attributed to innovating the way a private investigator does their job.
Here in Santa Clarita, some would be surprised to find a number of private investigators who call the SCV their home base, each finding their own niche in the industry.
Why become a private investigator?
“There’s this preconceived notion that we sit in cars, smoke cigars and wear fedoras,” private investigator Jennifer Marshall of Deep Source Investigations said, chuckling.
But when Marshall, a Navy veteran and actress, left the Los Angeles Police Department Academy after an injury, she still wanted to find a way to help people, which is why she turned to PI work.
“I knew I could help, and I knew that there was an option to work in this field, stay out of the drama, but really work on things that I found impactful. And thankfully, I’ve been able to do that,” she said. “I really love my job and I love our community and I love when I’m able to help someone in our community. That really means a lot to me, just because I think so much of Santa Clarita and the people who live here, and I’m really thankful to be able to have a business in a place that I live and in a town that I love.”
For Shannon Tulloss of Shannon Tulloss Investigations, she’s always been a do-gooder, she said, and going into PI work allowed her to keep that level of integrity she wasn’t able to find in other companies.
For over 30 years now, Tulloss has been in the business of helping people find peace in their lives, she said.
“That’s what fuels me,” she added. “I absolutely relish being a part of the solution.”
Similarly, Julien Dunn of Ms. Private Eye said she’s always been a very inquisitive person.
“I’m good at looking at things from different lenses, seeing it from the other person’s perspective and just thinking outside the box of ways to problem-solve,” Dunn said. “A lot of that is what my job is.”
What is a PI?
“I think everyone should have a PI in their back pocket, like they have their hairdresser, auto repair person or legal representation — someone that they know and trust,” Tulloss said. “Because we provide a service that is unique to our industry, in that we can help provide accurate information in order for you to make an informed decision.”
Information is key, whether it’s information regarding financial decisions, career decisions or even personal decisions, Tulloss added.
Similarly, Marshall considers herself an “information broker,” who specializes in certain subjects.
“It’s not jack-of-all-trades, you really want to be a master of a few specific things within the career path,” she added.
Instead, Marshall surrounds herself with other PI’s who are knowledgeable in those other areas she’s not.
Tulloss agreed, adding, “I’ve established nationwide, really worldwide, contacts. If I can’t find the information, I know somebody who can.”
As professionals, PIs have access to databases that aren’t available to the public, Dunn added.
“At times, it actually shocks me how much information I can get,” said Dunn, who’s newer to the industry, mentioning license plate-recognition technology that can help spouses track whether a partner has been somewhere they’re not supposed to be.
PIs through the years, and some of the myths
For Marshall, knowing both the art of looking through microfiches and searching the worldwide web allowed her to break into the PI industry.
“I noticed when I got into the profession, there were a lot of ‘old-time’ types … that were very good at kind of doing the old-style PI sort of thing … but when it came to the technology of it, they would come to me,” she said. “That’s actually how I started working when I first got my license … and then eventually came into my own. So, I was very thankful because if it wasn’t for that, the older PIs would have … had no use for me.”
That being said, Tulloss says PIs often struggle with the “CSI effect,” where exaggerated portrayals on crime TV shows, like “CSI,” affect public perception of the internet’s power.
“Just because you find it on the internet does not mean that it is true or that it is accurate,” Tulloss said.
While information is key, as is knowing where to find it. PIs are specialists whose research extends far beyond the reaches of information found on the internet, finding information that is both true and accurate.
“An excellent investigator will collect these resources for their information toolbox and use one over the other because it’ll be more accurate … and you don’t get that from Google,” Tulloss added. “I have a few degrees, but I’m constantly pursuing additional educational outlets to ‘keep my sword sharp,’ as they say.”
Likewise, Dunn says she finds a lot of people try to do their own private investigating before hiring a professional.
“They’ll tell me, ‘I’ve already Googled it and done this and this,’” Dunn said, “and they’re questioning whether I’m going to be able to give them something they don’t already have.”
On the flipside, others think it’s much more straightforward, she said, unaware of the work involved in uncovering certain information.
Women in a ‘male-dominated’ profession
“There’s nothing like a woman, especially a mom, private investigator on the case — they don’t stand a chance against us once we dig our feet in,” Tulloss said.
Marshall was used to working in male-dominated professions, both in the military and during her stint in the police academy. Even so, she says she was surprised coming into the PI industry that there weren’t more women.
“Women, by nature, we’re very perceptive,” Marshall said. “We tend to be nosy. We tend to figure out what’s going on. We listen to people. We’re much more observational than males are. And we’re much more empathetic, which helps when you’re interviewing someone.”
Tulloss agreed, adding, “We have a nature about us that is not so … aggressive in a way that I can get anybody to talk to me about pretty much anything.”
For Dunn, who named her PI company Ms. Private Eye, she was ready to differentiate herself as a woman in the industry.
“There’s so many men in this industry, particularly with police backgrounds, and I can’t compete with that,” she said. “So when (a client) comes to me, it’s because they specifically want a female.”
Not only can Dunn speak more comfortably on sensitive topics with her female clients, but she can also better blend in when doing surveillance work.
“Being a mom with a baseball cap and yoga pants when you’re walking your dog, no one thinks that you’re out of place,” she said, chuckling. “That’s to my advantage, where they’re looking for a man, so I feel like being a woman in this business helps.”
In any case, all agree that they quickly found they could fill that gap and provide those services for their male counterparts.
“I think that those are important traits for PIs to have, so it was definitely one of those things where it was seen as a benefit in my eyes,” Marshall added.