Private investigators in the north country are part of a growing field/ Daniel Flatley, Watertown Daily Times, N.Y.

Apr 29, 2014

It is a dreary afternoon in late winter, with gray skies and a granular mix of snow, ice and sand on the ground in front of the Salmon Run Mall. A man sits at the food court after ordering a combination platter from a Chinese restaurant; he finishes his meal and thirstily drinks a Pepsi before tucking a pinch of tobacco into the pouch formed by his lower lip. He is wearing a nondescript green jacket with a blue crew neck sweatshirt underneath, a pair of cargo pants and walking shoes. He's a north country private detective and he's on the job.

Shamus, gumshoe, private eye, P.I., detective, sleuth or undercover agent -- whatever you call them, private investigators have captivated the imaginations of Americans for a century, on the big and little screens, in books and in real life.

A handful of detectives work in the north country. Some are small-business owners, some are hired through regional firms and some are private contractors. And whether it's to investigate a cheating spouse or insurance fraud, they are united by a skill set that includes patience, persistence and a talent for reading people.

As we move deeper into the 21st century, technology and other tools will continue to change the way some investigations are done, but the industry isn't going away.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, private investigator jobs -- which pay a median salary of$45,740 a year, or $21.99 an hour, and require a high school diploma or equivalent degree -- are expected to grow by 11 percent between now and 2022.

Private investigators in New York must be at least 25 years of age and employed by a licensed detective agency. Most investigators interviewed by the Times are former law enforcement officers, although one executive with a regional firm that contracts with investigators in the north country said there is no set model for the type of person who makes a good P.I.

"One of my best guys in Syracuse installed carpets. He was a drill sergeant in the Army," said the executive, who works for New Hampshire-based Capital Investigating but didn't want his name used for security reasons.

The executive said 80 percent of the cases his investigators handle involve workers' compensation claims.

"None of the stuff we do really parallels any TV show or movie or anything," he said. "We don't carry guns. Basically, we have a license to loiter."

But the job does have advantages.

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