Columbia investigators handle personal, civil cases

These services are not affiliated with the Columbia Police Department.

Katie Prince / Graphic Designer

Cheating spouses are one of many cases private investigators in Columbia are hired to watch; people who have skipped out on their debt are another.

Melinda Kidder, owner and lead investigator of Columbia Investigations, said her team's specialty is surveillance and undercover work.

Private investigators are sometimes hired to find out if a customer's spouse is having an affair. Kidder said in these cases, investigators follow the spouse around and see if they are actually being unfaithful.

Ron Rugen, of Rugen Team Investigations, said he handles mostly civil cases. That means serving a large number of court papers like subpoenas.

"This month alone I'll probably get 30 to 40 summons," Rugen said.

Those summons are in addition to other cases Rugen might be investigating at any given time.

Private investigators also help people locate old friends, family members they haven't seen in a while and people who owe them money.

Rugen said he does not directly give customers the information he finds during these person locations. He gives the information to the client's attorney to ensure it is handled properly.

"That helps avoid cases of stalking," Rugen said.

The work of a private investigator is not limited to domestic and civil cases, Kidder said. People who have been accused of crimes often hire private investigators in hopes improving their case.

Columbia Police Department spokeswoman Jessie Haden said CPD does not interact with private investigators.

Haden said because the burden of proof is on the prosecution, it wouldn't surprise her if someone accused of a crime utilized available tools, such as a private investigator, to produce reasonable doubt.

"It would simply be an extension of what someone's defense attorney would do," Haden said.

Kidder said when her team works criminal cases, they help find whatever evidence exists and hopefully it will help exonerate the client.

"Our goal is to find the truth whether the client likes it or not," Kidder said.

Kidder also said Columbia Investigations is working on the appeal case for an unjustly convicted person. She said it is important to her the investigators working for her are qualified and dedicated.

Missouri does not require private investigators to get a license but Columbia does, Kidder said.

"The process is pretty simplistic and easy which is great for us but it doesn't provide the client with as much of a guarantee," Kidder said.

According to the city of Columbia's Web site, the Columbia Code of Ordinances states prospective private investigators must pay an application and license fee. A criminal background check is also conducted.

People often think the best background for a private investigator is in criminal justice, where there are a variety of skills that can be useful in the field, Rugen said.

His own background as a news reporter helps him get quality surveillance footage. Rugen said someone with a background in accounting would be able to conduct financial investigations.

For Kidder, she said one of the most important qualities in a private investigator is drive.

"One of the first things I ask a prospective employee is, 'Why do you want to be an investigator?' " Kidder said.

Kidder has one investigator with preliminary military training, one earning a degree in forensics and one who has lived in the area his whole life and seems to know everything about everyone.

"I like to see an inquisitive, intelligent person," she said.

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