Written by The Business Journal Staff
Rocky Pipkin, Managing General Partner
Pipkin Detective Agency
Your title and role at PDA? Managing general partner, which means I run the day-to-day operations at our two offices in Fresno and Visalia.
What we do: Pipkin Detective Agency (PDA) was formed back in 1987 as a locally owned and operated investigation firm in Fresno. PDA has evolved into one of the most effective private investigations firms on the West Coast. Our business philosophy is that we provide the best investigative services in all areas of investigation by utilizing the best individuals for each specific area of investigation. PDA continues to maintain the highest standards of integrity, technical sophistication, and expertise in all the different fields of investigations.
Education: Two years post graduate at Central California College of Law.
Family: I don’t give out that information because a motorcycle gang threatened me once after testifying at trial for the government as an expert witness.
What was the best advice you ever received and who did it come from?
“Do what you like for a living and you’ll never work a day in your life.” That advice came from my dad.
Who or what has been the biggest influence on your career, Rocky?
Vern Hughes, former sergeant in the Marine Corps, fought in the Korean Conflict, retired CHP officer. He brought me into the business, taught me, trained me, mentored me and was my partner in the detective agency for over 20 years. He’s 83 years old now and retired but still sharp as a tack.
What are your roots in the Central Valley, Rocky?
My family came here in the late 1800s in a covered wagon. My great great grandmother, Kitty Kizar Pipkin and her 12 children, arrived in Sultana along with my great grandfather, John Wesley Pipkin, who started an Indian motorcycle dealership there. Later they moved the business to Reedley and then Fresno and then they sold it and started the first Chevrolet dealership in Dinuba.
What was your very first job and what did you learn from it?
When I was 11 years old, I convinced the local Fresno Bee carrier that I was 12 and got my first job as a paperboy. I was making a whopping $30 a month. But I learned how to sell papers — and that hard work pays off. I got up every day at 5 in the morning, folded my papers, packed my saddlebags and took off on my bike, a Murray Wildcat my grandfather bought me for my 10th birthday.
What do you like to do in your spare time, Rocky?
I’ve been blessed to be able to hunt and fish all over the U.S., Mexico and Canada.
Why did you choose to pursue a career as a private detective, Rocky?
I was going to law school and couldn’t find a job in any related field. So my friend Vern Hughes suggested that we open up a private detective agency. I said, “Ya, right.” But he was recognized as a court-qualified expert in accident reconstruction and we immediately got business because of his qualifications. He trained me to also qualify as an expert in speed and skid evaluations and later on, I became qualified in private investigations, repossessions and other areas of law.
What was the most noteworthy case your agency has been involved in, Rocky?
There are two. The most rewarding was being able to assist the U.S. Secret Service in the protection of the president on two separate occasions — in 2003 when George W. Bush visited the Valley and then when he came again in 2012 to speak at the World Ag Expo. He was the nicest guy. The last time he was here, he told me that if I were ever in Crawford [Texas], to stop by and “We’ll have a barbecue.” And the second case was when we assisted the U.S. Department of Agriculture in a case versus Marvin Horne, which went all the way to the Supreme Court in 2014 [Horne won the case this week]. That involved our agency investigating violations of the federal marketing order for raisins. Based on our investigation, Mr. Horne was fined several hundred thousand dollars.
How often do you work with area law enforcement agencies and what are some of the ways you collaborate, Rocky?
We work with local, state and federal law enforcement routinely. When business owners or private parties do not have sufficient evidence of the commission of a crime, we’re brought in to investigate and gather sufficient evidence to turn the case over to law enforcement.
How large is your staff and how do you go about recruiting, Rocky?
We really don’t need to recruit. Most of our people have been with us for many years. We have people applying with us all the time but it’s very difficult to get in because nobody wants to leave. We maintain a staff of about 40 employees and contractors.
What percentage of your cases involve ag-related crimes and what are famers doing to better protect themselves, Rocky?
For the first 20 years, it was less than 20 percent, but over the past ten years, its over 50 percent. One of the reasons why it’s grown so steadily is because people are stealing truckloads of pistachios, walnuts and citrus. The crooks have realized how valuable ag products can be and how lucrative it is for them to sell these things on the black market. Farmers are hiring our agency for security and being more vigilant. And they are checking their fields, equipment and crops on a daily basis. The more time that passes between the crime and the notification, the more difficult it becomes to determine who the responsible parties are.
What advice would you give a young person today who is considering a career as a private detective, Rocky?
Obtain a college degree in the administration of criminal justice with a minor in computer science. The reason for that is not only does this job necessitate criminal justice experience, but technology is making a huge move forward in the identification, investigation and prosecution of criminal activity. Cyber crimes are probably the fastest growing form of criminal activity in our world today. And before anyone can get a PI license they have to have three years of experience, with a minimum of 6,000 hours on the job as a sworn peace officer or as a paid employee of a licensed private detective agency.