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Interview with Santos investigator W. Schoonhoven in Regional Daily Papers

Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024, the interview appeared in the weekend supplement (VRIJ) of several Media House regional newspapers.
source: https://www.noordhollandsdagblad.nl/cnt/dmf20240109_53593570

Suspected adultery, sick leave or an unsolved robbery? Private investigators solve cases that police leave behind

© Getty Images

Julia Osendarp

Infiltrate, post, chase, disguise and, above all, don’t stand out. When you hear the word “private investigator,” you quickly get a Sherlock Holmes-like image. Popular programs such as “Undercover in the Netherlands” and “Zeeman Confronts” often use private detectives. But how do they proceed? And why do some people prefer to turn to a private investigator rather than the police?

Private investigation agency, private investigation or private detective, is what people in this industry call themselves. According to the Department of Justice and Security, there are currently 440 private investigation agencies operating. But can just anyone become a private investigator? Not quite. There are a number of requirements for a private detective agency. For example, they must have a license, which is issued by the Ministry of Justice and Security. And private investigators must undergo training as “private investigators.

Gerard Wuite (60) operates out of Zwaag, North Holland, and is a private investigator with a police background. “I always wanted to join the police. I worked for a time in Amsterdam and with the Noord-Holland Noord police.” In addition to police work, Wuite was asked if he could do security work in business. “I had a good time with the police, but finally took the plunge to start for myself. More and more companies asked for my expertise. Because I had experience in both police and criminal investigation, I understood the business.”

Welmer Schoonhoven, 44, works as a private investigator for Santos Recherchebureau from Breukelen, Utrecht. The need for truth and justice were what drove him to work as a private investigator. “I have always had a passion for mysteries and solving complex problems. For the last three years, I have been working as a private investigator. Before that, I worked as a driver and security guard for the wealthier segment. There I took care of safety plans, preventive observations and security. That made it a logical step for me to become a private investigator.”

Schoonhoven has no police background. He took the private investigator course. “Within that course you learn about legislation, investigation, reporting and cases,” he said. Once a private investigator has that degree, he or she applies for credentials with the chief of police. “Then they review your history and you are screened. If approved, you get a yellow pass, or credential private investigator.”

Aggravated assault

Wuite has now been active as a private investigator for 15 years. What kind of issues does he care about? “Mainly theft, stalking, fraud, aggravated assault and robbery. In the police I also did this kind of thing. I brought that knowledge and expertise into my current work.”

The cases Schoonhoven handles are slightly different from Wuite’s. These can be private as well as business issues. “Often it starts with a suspicion that something is not quite right. For individuals, it can be about spousal support fraud, investigation of adultery, stalking, but it can also be about suspicions of a loverboy with a child. For the latter, we can do the preliminary work for the police. After all, with a suspicion you attract little attention from the police; after all, they have little time. But it may be that parents are worried, don’t know where their child is hanging out or strange behavior is occurring. Then we can investigate. ” Within corporate issues, Schoonhoven sees a different type of case. “That could be about absenteeism, internal theft, violation of competition or relationship clauses or background checks on potential employees.”

A case Schoonhoven solved recently? “That was one about spousal maintenance. Although an ex-partner was registered with a relative, it turned out that he had been living with a new relationship for some time. These are cases that can take quite a long time. After all, you have to be able to prove over an extended period of time that someone has been living together. It must be an affective relationship of an enduring nature and there must be mutual care and a common household. During such an investigation, we also link up with the client’s lawyer.” The material collected could eventually be used as evidence. Schoonhoven also found a lot of information on various social media channels. “You are sometimes really amazed at what all people post on social media without thinking about it.”

Spousal support

Arthur van ‘t Hek (42) is an attorney specializing in criminal and family law. He and his client hired a private investigator for a lawsuit a year ago. He recognizes the example Schoonhoven gives. “In case law, you sometimes come across cases where a private investigator is used. It is used especially in spousal support cases. Researching that yourself is quite time consuming, and you’re not going to spend days at an ex-partner’s house posting. Gathering evidence in cases like that can be very difficult. Then a private investigator can provide opportunities.”

Van ‘t Hek himself came up with a private investigator when he did a case about a divorce. “Father was my client and the two children were stuck between both parents. We knew the children were not doing well, but the cause was unclear. My client pointed to his ex-wife, but could not prove it.”

The lawyer suggested a private investigator and they decided to have an incidental investigation done. “A private investigator paid a visit to the ex-partner. This woman was receiving benefits, stated that she had no job, that her children were always at home and everything was going well.” From

‘t Hek stressed that this private investigator remained professional and impartial. “But less came out of the survey than we expected.”

The ex-partner told the private investigator, whom she obviously did not know was a private investigator, more about her private situation. “She was honest about her business, released things about her ex-partner and had to cry about her children. Useful information for us, but once you know that, you still have to make the translation to the courtroom. And judges are not so keen on using a private investigator.” According to the lawyer, whether using a private investigator is useful varies from situation to situation. “Sometimes there is no other way. In the divorce case, the evidence was taken, but little else was done with it. The judge had no ears for it.”

Puzzling

Wuite’s approach varies from case to case. “It remains customized. Sometimes a case can be resolved very quickly and other issues take months or even years. But sometimes when a theft occurs, the stolen item is on Marketplace within just a few hours. Then the matter is resolved fairly quickly.”

“A flying crow catches more,” Wuite explains. In other words, the former agent prefers to get “out in the field. “Of course you can do a lot from a desk, but you also have to actually get out there. By infiltrating, working with cameras or posting somewhere. There has to be puzzling to bring things to light.” That “puzzle drive,” by the way, is in Wuite’s nature. “That perseverance and drive to want to solve something has to be in you,” he said. The former agent now acts with a team. And if he lacks specific expertise, he hires someone. “That could be an ICT person in a case about Internet fraud or a pilot if I need to comb a large area.”

Police have weapons or the ability to call for reinforcements. Wuite regularly steps out onto something on his own, but what about his safety? “It’s a matter of using your peasant sense. Is it out of line? Then I don’t. I’m not scared by nature, but if I don’t trust it, I call the police. But I am well-educated, core healthy and use my mind.”

© Getty Images/CSA Images RF

A private investigator also encounters things that can make an impression. Wuite: “I can talk away unpleasant situations well, but of course you have to have a certain attitude. My job is to resolve cases, some of which are also intense or emotional, to the best of my ability. For example, when children are involved, it touches me. I can stand many things, but I’m not made of steel.”

Ethics

Should Schoonhoven take on a case, his first step is to meet with a potential client. “Then we establish the purpose of the investigation,” he says. After that, the strategy is determined. “That may be static (posting) or dynamic (pursuing) observation, it may involve digital research or talking to sources. We then draw up a plan of action and quote and, once agreed, get to work.”

Schoonhoven emphasizes that a private investigator must be ethical about privacy. “That’s why I want to use as few heavy resources as possible. You have to be able to justify to yourself whether you are doing research in a neat way. You can’t just put hidden cameras in a home, but that ethical thinking, that’s what you learn.”

Why do people choose to go to a private investigator rather than the police? According to Wuite, private investigators are now able to act quickly. “With the police, it’s different. My work is truly customized and I missed that in my time in the police. Surely things are more bureaucratic there. Agents work according to protocols. When someone calls me, I can get to the doorstep and act fairly quickly.”

Schoonhoven agrees that not everyone feels comfortable calling in the police. “When you file a report, it’s just a question of whether there’s time to take up a case and in what way officers do it. If you place a case with us, you as the client remain in control of what is and is not investigated.”

No competitors

The North Holland private investigator emphasizes that he still likes to cooperate with the police. “Especially with serious crimes, I don’t act without a report,” he says. Consequently, he never considers the police a competitor. “They do their thing with the resources they have. The police can do a lot, but due to lack of time and manpower, things can get left behind. The thing is, the cop working on a case, he’s willing. After all, I know the other side of the story. But circumstances and systems don’t always allow it.”

Schoonhoven sees it that way, too. With his findings, clients can confront someone directly, file charges or turn things over to an attorney and start a legal process. Crimes or serious offenses he does leave to the police. “We do the smaller cases, but with the evidence we collect, police can get to work in some cases. We are not competitors of the police, rather we do the preliminary work or are a complement.”

Wuite says the police are struggling with a large outflow. “Partly because of an aging population and the underpaid work of agents. I think the police may think a little more “out of the box” in this. There are quite a few former colleagues willing to help the police, they just need to look at it differently.”

Attorney Van ‘t Hek emphasizes that a police report has a “special meaning. “An investigation by a private investigator is an item of evidence. By the way, that can turn out favorably, but of course it can also turn the other way.” Still, the lawyer fully understands why people seek the help of a private investigator. “There are situations where you get stuck. For example, cases involving undeclared work are also difficult to prove. Sometimes there are big tough guys or sweet females who get benefits but do all kinds of work in addition to that.”

The lawyer explains that if a trial is conducted in a normal, fair and open manner, a judge would not appreciate it if suddenly there is a report from a private investigator. “But there are sometimes strange circumstances where people are not transparent about data. If it’s a qualitative study, the judge does look at it, but it doesn’t happen very often in court cases.”

Hiring a private investigator is not free. Even Van ‘t Hek knows that, explaining that such a thing costs a pretty penny. Wuite emphasizes that this is a commercial enterprise. “And yes, the chimney has to smoke.” But his clients are not all equally wealthy. “My hourly rate is 99.50 euros, but I also feel a social duty to help people with a lesser wallet. So I look at what I can do on a case-by-case basis. I still think it’s most important to solve cases, not what I get paid for it. “

Hourly rate

Schoonhoven also charges an hourly rate. “The duration, complexity and deployment of manpower naturally determines the cost. But does an investigation take a few days? Then such a study does cost a few thousand euros. Alimony cases, for example, can take a very long time, but cases involving infidelity or sick leave, for example, are often resolved quickly.”

Schoonhoven emphasizes again that his investigative agency deals primarily with investigations that police do not have time or attention for.

“The police, of course, have much greater powers. We have to be creative in our approach and take into account privacy laws.” He mentions that it is also important for a private investigator not to stand out. “When you are investigating, it is important that you blend in with the crowd. I don’t walk around in a tight black suit with big sunglasses on.”

Media

Some things stay with you longer than others. One of Wuites cases received media attention. The North Holland private investigator supported a family victimized by a brutal robbery in a Schoorl villa. The perpetrators were eventually found. Wuite also recalls another aggravated assault case. “The victim was then abused abroad and the suspects were without a trace. Eventually we found them again. That means a lot to a victim. With the family I am still in touch.”

“But I don’t forget theft within families either. There are those who continue to glibly lie to their families and lead you astray. I did learn from that: ‘Don’t marvel, just marvel.’ Sometimes even small things can be very valuable. “For example, opening a deceased person’s phone so the next of kin still have the photos. That’s what makes the profession beautiful. It is not all doom and gloom, I also see very beautiful and positive things,” the former agent concluded.

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