Private Investigator enjoys Variety/ Greg Brock @ Altoona Mirror

Jan 4, 2015

The term private detective conjures up all sorts of images, from hardboiled Sam Spade to the gritty Jim Rockford.

For a Blair County private detective, day-to-day life is a bit different than the stuff of books and television.

"First of all, I'm not Magnum P.I. I'm not driving around in a Ferrari," said Ed Linton Jr., 56, who has spent much of the last two decades working as a private investigator in Blair County and surrounding areas. "I'm also not sitting, smoking a cigar, in an office waiting for a damsel in distress to walk in."

Linton, a former police officer in Altoona and his native North Carolina, said the variety of cases involved in private investigations is the biggest reason he left law enforcement to pursue a career

in the field.

It's a job where each new day brings with it a new case, ranging from working for an insurance company to investigate an employee's worker's compensation claim or providing services to a client involved in a custody case to serving people with legal documents or tracking down witnesses for a homicide suspect's defense attorney.

No matter what the job, Linton said as a private investigator, who doesn't have the powers or easy access to information like the police, it's a matter of honing one's people skills.

"My No. 1 goal is to treat a person as I'd like to be treated," Linton said.

Linton pointed out much of what a private investigator does involves observing and documenting, either through pictures or video.

"A lot of my work is what I call activity monitoring," Linton said. That also means much of what a private investigator does remains private, so much that not even the subject of the investigation knows about it.

"Obviously, I don't want people to know what I'm working on until it goes to court," Linton said, adding that over the years he's watched plenty of people's eyes "get really big" when they learn on the witness stand they've been under surveillance.

Linton said work is steady from attorneys, companies and private parties, all with varying needs for the services of a private detective.

"My business is steady," Linton said. "It slows around the holidays, and it slows around what I call the vacation season." Some weeks are packed with calls while other weeks are spent playing catch-up, he said.

It's a business that is regulated by state law and in turn is overseen at the county level by the local district attorney. The Private Detective Act of 1953 lays out the rules for becoming a private investigator and retaining a license, something Linton is well versed on as chairman of compliance for the Pennsylvania Association of Licensed Investigators.

The baseline requirements include a minimum age of 25, at least three years' full-time experience as an investigator or supervisor with a local or state law enforcement agency, unless a person has worked the same number of years for another licensed private investigator, and a clean criminal history.

Linton said the state association holds a yearly conference featuring speakers and training to go along with continuing education opportunities throughout the state year-round.

"You've got to keep up on that stuff so you know how the law is changing," Linton said.

Linton got his start in 1982, working for the late private investigator Walter "Gene" Ellis while Linton awaited hiring at the Altoona Police Department. After eight years with APD, Linton set out to get his own license, something he had to leave the police force to pursue.

A lot has changed over the years in how a private investigator tackles his job, particularly in the area of technology - whether it is on the Internet, where his website, elinton.com, helps bring in clients from out of town that need work done locally or through the specialized equipment that 20 years ago wasn't available.

"When I first started, the (video) cameras were like the ones you put on your shoulder," Linton said. "Now, the cameras are so small you can put them in your hand."

They come even smaller and come disguised as about any ordinary item you can think of, Linton said, although depending on where a person lives, some of that technology can get you into trouble due to wiretapping and GPS tracking laws. Linton said that is why it's important private investigators are licensed.

"We all need to follow the regulations and be properly licensed, and if you are licensed, you need to be following the rules," Linton said.

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