An ‘Army’ of Volunteer Sleuths Are Out Hunting for Your Stolen Car
Police in the United States are increasingly using the help of amateur sleuths. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
In this week’s New York Times, the magazine has published a story called “Don’t Leave Your Car in the Parking Lot: A New Breed of Private Investigators” by journalist Jeremy Peters. The piece makes the argument that the rise of home invasions is partly the result of a surge of amateur-type private investigators trying to ferret out stolen cars left unattended in public parking lots and elsewhere. The problem is, the “private detectives” are mostly former cops and law enforcement officials who, in one capacity or another, have been granted immunity under the False Claims Act.
Such is the case of Tom Hall, who spent 28 years in the St. Louis division of the FBI and now works as a private investigator for a security company called Private Eye. When a reporter for Private Eye approached him with the idea of finding a missing car, Hall’s reaction was one of incredulity: “I don’t think we could have anything to do with this.” He then elaborated, “I think I’m the first private investigator in America.” But in fact, Private Eye does have a role in this “private detective” operation: it does the bulk of the work of tracking down potentially stolen cars. To help, it has hired more than 1,000 retired cops and other law enforcement personnel.
Peters also quotes from a former NYPD officer—who happens to be married to the head of the NYPD’s Major Crimes Task Force (which includes the investigators who are working with Private Eye)—who says, “When the media asks me how much the police department gets out of me, I think, ‘Well, it does get a lot out of my wife.’ But, you know, there’s a lot we get out of crime prevention and enforcement.”
The Private Eye article, which follows up on a feature in the New York Times last year, quotes a police expert who says that about a 70% chance of a theft is “not bad” but “doesn’t warrant a