February 2, 2009
Female private eyes sneak past hard-bitten stereotype
ORLANDO, Fla. — A new private-investigation agency here is less like Sam Spade and more like the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Sandy Love and Kelly Hite are sleuthing around Central Florida, challenging the perception of P.I.s.
"People meet us and think it's the coolest thing," said Hite, 49. "People have a concept of what you should look like, but people meet us and think it's wonderful. We're just hardworking women."
Love, 45, has been a private investigator for almost 22 years and started her own business, Sandy Love Investigations, in 1995, when she had trouble finding work because she was a woman and did not have previous military or law-enforcement experience.
Hite owned a medical clinic for 18 years before selling it last January because she was disillusioned with the insurance red tape. She had known Love for about seven years. Central Florida PI was born last spring, with Love in the field and Hite handling administration while working on her two-year licensing internship.
Two other women also are working on their internships at the Windermere, Fla.-based company.
Orlando private investigator Stephen Craig, a regional director with the 600-member Florida Association of Licensed Investigators, said private investigation is a male-dominated field, because many private investigators are men with military or law-enforcement training in their past.
He said about a third of licensed investigators are women, who tend to put subjects at ease, not on the defensive.
"I don't intimidate people," Love said. "I have a funny, crazy personality, and yes, I carry a gun."
Love said that in the beginning, she didn't worry about working alone, but now she works with a partner and will quickly back out of an uncomfortable situation.
"I've had my share of run-ins with bad people, but if you know how to handle your situation, you're OK," Love said. "I kind of go with my gut feeling."
Once, Love said, she approached someone she wanted to talk with in Apopka, Fla., on a murder case, and he pulled a gun on her because he was dealing drugs.
Hite said one reason she got into the business is to help keep others safe.
As a single woman, she went to dinner with a man she had met online. Though he seemed like a wonderful person, she had Love run a background check and found he had recently been released from prison.
"If I had not had a friend like Sandy, I would have seen this person more times," Hite said. "It really got me to thinking about women and men that don't check."
Love and Hite work cases involving everything from missing persons to child custody.
Some of Love's most challenging, time-consuming cases are homicides, in which she retraces the life of the accused. She gathers information about the subjects, including their prenatal care and childhood injuries, and interviews school and work associates.
"Every day, it's something different," Love said.
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