• Doug Cunningham

A first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford.

“Allan Pinkerton founded the Pinkerton Detective Agency back in 1850 right here in Chicago. We were basically the original Secret Service. Now, even though people refer to us as private detectives, we don’t do private work, like marital issues. We only work for companies, providing workers’ compensation investigations, executive protection, things like that.

“When companies have problems in the workplace—stealing, sexual harassment, drugs—a lot of times the only way to really get a snapshot of what’s going on is to go in undercover and pose as a regular worker. I’ve done that several times. No one ever found out who I was, but I’ve heard stories where people have been found out and beaten up—none of our agents, fortunately.

“When we do surveillance, like for a workers’ comp claim, we always start at the subject’s residence. We used to be able to sit on a street doing surveillance for several hours at a time, but society’s getting more and more suspicious. I can tell you from experience not to conduct surveillance in a bank parking lot, because the tellers are looking for suspicious vehicles. In one instance they called the police, and I was held at gunpoint until they could verify my credentials.

“I’ve also been held at gunpoint by people who aren’t law enforcement, let’s just say. Once someone broke into my surveillance vehicle with a gun, and I was able to hold them off and get them to put down their weapon. Another time, I saw an individual come out from a house late at night, and I didn’t see that he had a rifle at his side. I had my window cracked, and he stuck the rifle in the window and asked what I was doing. I was able to socially engineer my way out of that situation. Three instances in 24 years being on the wrong end of a gun, I’d say, isn’t bad.

“Today it’s very prevalent that when someone loses their job, they make threats. Right now 74 percent of our business in my territory is related to workplace violence. In the past, if someone said, ‘You’re gonna be sorry,’ you could say, ‘Aw, they’re just blowing off steam,’ but now you can’t take that chance. We have to be able to tell who’s a barker and who’s a biter, and we’re very good at that. And we can use social media to come up with a threat assessment. Are they in a custody battle? Are they a hunter, so maybe they own firearms or knives?

“A lot of people think that we have the same powers as law enforcement—that we can arrest people or tap phones. No, we can’t. And everyone believes that everything we find out, we turn over to law enforcement, and they say, ‘Thank you very much; we’ll arrest this guy right away.’ Nope. They usually throw it out the window and conduct their own investigation.

“I look at everything differently now. If I hear about a bus accident, I think, I bet half the people on that bus are gonna file fraudulent workers’ comp claims or are looking to sue. And I’m always making sure my garage is closed, my doors and windows are locked. I’m always telling people, ‘Be safe.’ I’m providing them with a sense of security whether they want it or not.”