School for private detectives: how ESARP works

Charles turns the steering wheel abruptly, causing several objects to collapse to the ground. He has his eyes fixed on the car we are following and is willing to cut the road to the buses and bicycles on the road to continue the hunt. “He’s turning right,” he mumbles into his headphones.

On this special morning, Charles, 57, is joined by Valentin, 22, to find out if a former sports coach who retired with a leg injury has lied about her health. Typical private detective work, except for one small detail: none of this is genuine.

Instead, it is an exercise staged by ESARP, the Ecole Supérieure des Agents de Recherches Privées (College of Private Investigative Agents), the first training center in France for importance in the sector. And since this institution actually prepares people for the work itself, we were asked to omit the surnames of Charles and Valentin.

“Speed ​​up, Charles, the highway code is always there,” scolded Julie Catalifaud, 36, a private detective and teacher at ESARP. The task assigned today is quite common in this area, “Companies have dedicated algorithms to identify potential cases of fraud and thus initiate the investigation,” specifies Samuel Mathis, director of the school.

A few minutes later, Charles and Valentin approach the fake trainer who is giving a private lesson in a park: she is clearly using her leg with no movement problems. The next step is to gather evidence, a work that must be done with great discretion.

Valentin chooses to sit not far from the subject under investigation and pretends to answer a call while actually taking several pictures. Charles tries to hide a little further away, but is scolded by the professor: “We see you too easily.”

Valentin and Charles swap places after getting back in the car so they are not caught – “There must always be a car between the chasing and the subsequent,” Catalifaud explains. The coach stopped at a mall, and Valentin parked right behind it, then put on a baseball cap – a discreet yet effective disguise often worn with glasses, as well as hats and wigs.

However, it is difficult to keep a low profile in the stores, especially if you are with your colleagues, your teacher and a full team of journalists. In fact, five guards armed with walkie talkies showed up in no time. “A lot happens in that kind of environment, it’s natural to arouse suspicion, since we are so many,” says Catalifaud – under normal circumstances, however, this is not the kind of thing that should happen to professionals.

Shortly after, Catalifaud decided to end the day. Valentin and Charles showed her the pictures and summed up their work just like they would do with a real customer. “We saw her play sports,” reports one of the two. “Yes, but what did he do specifically?” Catalifaud responded uncompromisingly. Before he gets them on to the labor market, he must make sure that the level of professionalism achieved is very high.

In France, people wishing to work in this field must use a one-year training period to obtain a license. The competition is very fierce: only four structures are accredited, spread over two universities and two private schools. A thousand candidates try to get into ESARP every year, but only 35 people are accepted.

In the UK, on ​​the other hand, there is no need for any formal training to be able to practice the detective profession. However, it is still possible to get a license by following a course of a few hundred hours.

Catalifaud is the only teacher in this lesson cycle. When she started working in this field 11 years ago, there were not many women. According to ESARP Director Samuel Mathis, the school has now achieved gender equality, and in fact this year, 80 per cent of those attending classes are women.

But despite the improvements, the industry is still male-dominated. “In my career, I have almost always been surrounded by men,” she confirms, adding that in emails she is often treated as if she were a man. “But it has never been a problem, I do not let myself be beaten down. That’s not how I am. “On the contrary, she believes that her identity gives her added value over her colleagues.” I am inconspicuous. As a woman and young man, I do not fit the typical profile, ”she explains.

In addition to fraud, the profession often involves infidelity and violations of “non-compete clauses”. The number of worried parents turning to private detectives has also risen dramatically in recent years: “Some of the clients want to know if their offspring are drug addicts, if they skip school or go into bad turns,” explains Thibault Zandecki, a other teacher. .

The school is open to people of all ages, backgrounds and experiences. Valentin had started working in the hospital industry, only to discover that he was interested in law, which is a fundamental part of these school curricula. “I did not know if the detective profession was real before,” he admits. A classmate of his, Steven, is a former firefighter while Charles previously worked at the bank.

After using a private detective himself twice, Charles has decided to embark on this new career. After 35 years of working in the international banking circuit, Charles then quit his job. “I’m close to retiring, but in shape I can work as a detective for the next ten years,” he says. “That’s what I want to do at the end of my career.”

After all, part of his daily work at the bank was to investigate and determine whether the customers were trustworthy. That said, it was not easy for Charles to start a new formative period. “I didn’t think the study was that demanding, especially not in the legal aspects,” he points out. “All very interesting, but you have to hold on to get to the bottom.”

Charles still does not know what he will do when he graduates, but Director Mathis already knows what to expect. “With his experience, he will definitely become a financial detective,” he explains. “It’s a much – needed field, and Charles already has the necessary knowledge.”

The private detective profession is full of adventure, but it is also heavily romanticized by the movies and series. You can earn well, with hourly rates between 80 and 130 euros, but it can take a long time to have a stable income. In addition, it is difficult to balance private and work life, as it is a job that requires a lot of travel and a lot of flexibility.

All things considered, people who engage in the private investigation industry are necessarily quite lonely and tend to put pressure on friendships or intimate relationships. Julie Catalifaud still remembers the time when she was partying in her house and could not even show up: “Three hours before I started, I informed everyone that I was going to Bordeaux.”

“We know where we’re going, but not when we’ll be back,” Mathis concludes with a smile. “In my thirties, I returned from a job to discover that my boyfriend was gone.” But after all, he would not change his career to anything else in the world.

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