However, Daron is still the exception to the rule--at least locally. With detective courses being advertised on late-night TV, and because the job is a natural stepping stone for people leaving law enforcement, it's a cutthroat profession, and one that's difficult to succeed in. Of the five local investigators I spoke with, Daron Coates was the only one who had consistent work--the others were "still getting rolling," even after years in the field.
Two retired cops now working nearby as PIs admitted to spending most of their time prospecting for jobs. When asked what a typical day was like, PI Robert says, "sitting around the house on the computer, checking email, looking for more jobs." The other PI, Steve (not his real name), adds, "you're definitely doing some advertising, and waiting for the phone to ring." Many of the investigators listed on Oregon's PI directory had disconnected phone numbers and bad email addresses.
For Daron, however, a history in corporate investigations and law enforcement, contacts with attorneys and police, credibility in the field, and a willingness to do what others won't gives him an abundance of work. When not in his office, Daron is on stakeouts, working undercover, serving legal papers, dictating reports, and flying to Palm Springs, LA, and across the country to gather evidence for his cases.
POOLS OF BLOOD
Unlike niche-market investigators (like patent fraud or tenant screening) Daron delves into society's underbelly, and leaves cheating spouses and petty crime to the part-timers looking to supplement their retirement.
"I go to a lot of rough places," he says. "A lot of dope houses, a lot of places where they're cooking meth. I've been to houses where murders have taken place, and when you return two weeks later you're still stepping over pools of dried blood--some of those people are not real excited to talk to you."
Daron recounts one particularly gritty stalking case.
"It involved a young girl," he says, "and you wouldn't know by looking at her, but she'd inherited an extremely large sum of money. And she'd met this guy--good lesson to be learned here--when her car broke down. Long story short, they ended up going to dinner a few times, and ultimately he moved in with her. He eventually found her stock portfolios, and that's when the trouble started.
"After some problems between the two, this guy gets kicked out and starts stalking her. He'd use her phone to dial his own number and report it as a harassing phone call. Then they'd shut her phone off. Stuff like that."
"Eventually, this guy tunneled from a vacant lot, underneath her porch to her basement, and then burrowed through the cement [to get to her]. In this case, the parents wanted 24-hour protection and for us to catch the guy. We took her and her roommates and smuggled them out of town via a lengthy transport until we got them to safety and knew they hadn't been followed. At this point we set up a trail for him to follow so we could catch him--which we eventually did."
GUILTY UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT
In addition to building criminal cases, Daron explains that part of his job involves helping the seemingly guilty prove their innocence; often in rape and molestation cases.
"Sometimes you look at a case and you think, 'This guy definitely looks guilty.' But when you get into it, it isn't what you thought. People are often charged with child abuse or rape, and a lot of times they're guilty, but a lot of times they're not. Unfortunately, the general populace has an attitude--whether they realize it or not--that if you're arrested for a crime, you're probably guilty. Think about it: If you see someone on the news, you assume they did it. But the reality is, I've had many, many cases come across my desk, even court-appointed ones, where I get into it and it's like 'You know what? They didn't do this. This is a total crock.'"
"In rape or molestation cases, the ones you really question are when girls who are 12, 13, or 14 are involved. That's about the time they come into an age where they start putting on a lot of makeupÉ they want to do thisÉ they want to do that. Then you throw a step-dad into the mix, or mom's new boyfriend, and these guys are making them do their homework, and not letting them run around until one o'clock in the morning--and the girls get mad."
"Then the [girls] pick up a story on TV, or they've got a friend whose dad molested them when they were little, and all of the sudden it's like, 'I know how I can get rid of him, I'll just say he molested me.' So sometimes their story isn't true, but even then I tell the authorities, 'Hey, there is a problem hereÉ but it's not what you think.'"
GOOD NEWS AND BAD NEWS
Daron has a motto: "If you're gonna run a business, you gotta get out there and get your hands dirty." But even with a successful business, dealing with drugs, rapes, and murders can start to take their toll.
"You see the same things," he says. "You see suicides. I've had cases where people have a teenager who mysteriously disappears--almost like they run away, but that's really out of character for them. The police think it's just a runaway, so what more can they do? However, after looking for them, all of the sudden you find out that a straight-A, chess-playing student from the good side of town ends up in South LA dead--and it's a suicide. And it's your job to go back and tell the folks, 'I looked at the body, it's definitely him. That's your son.'
"So there's a lot of stuff like that, which is not so fun. But it's not all about delivering bad news. It's nice once in a while when you do things that can positively affect people; when you can change their lives for the better."