Do hotels still have house detectives?
December 12, 2005 6:59 PM   Subscribe

Do hotels still have house detectives? You always hear about them in old movies and radio shows; do they still exist? If they do, what are their responsibilities?
posted by Dr. Wu to Grab Bag (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I would imagine that falls under the umbrella of "security"'s the guys who watch the closed circuit TVs.
posted by cosmicbandito at 7:06 PM on December 12, 2005

Response by poster: Yeah, but my sense of "house detective" (from old movies and radio shows) is that the job is really more or less that of a detective -- someone who doesn't just observe, but who actually investigates and, you know, solves crimes, and stuff.

I've always wondered about this, and was reminded of it today when listening to a transcription of a Bob Hope radio show from 1938 in which House detectives are mentioned.
posted by Dr. Wu at 7:10 PM on December 12, 2005

Ever watch the NBC Show "Las Vegas"? It's all about hotel/casino security people solving crimes and stuff. It's pretty entertaining and they cast all hot chicks as the main female characters.

I would imagine there's some real world analogue, sans hot chicks, of course.
posted by delmoi at 7:20 PM on December 12, 2005

This article from Security Management Magazine contains the following:
Pierini signed up as a part-time Washoe County Sheriff's deputy reserve officer and joined the MGM Grand Casino as a security officer. The flexible hours allowed her to care for her family as well as bring in a salary. At MGM, Pierini was promoted to sergeant, and later, to a house detective.
So at least as late as the in the 1980's (according to the date in article) Las Vegas hotels (as delmoi suggested) still had house detectives.
posted by RichardP at 7:36 PM on December 12, 2005

Short answer: Yes. From an article in the Jun 2004 Travel & Leisure magazine, Behind Closed Doors:

The hotel detective has become a security specialist, and surveillance screens now do the work of that seen-it-all squint. But at least one thing remains the same: there's always a diamond ring missing...

Page two has the good stuff:

Since he joined, he says, there have been just two deaths at the hotel: "Two weeks ago we had a guy commit suicide. Drug counselor, overdosed. Yeah—I know." Tarangelo sips his coffee. "He had half of Peru up his nose when we found him."

...We tour the hotel, and Tarangelo shows me the command center, with its monitors and computers and cameras that perform "face capture" on whoever comes into the Palace, can track anyone on the premises, and record the turning of every key in every lock...Much of what goes on involves "misplaced property." For instance, the wife of a well-known athlete had recently reported a diamond ring missing.

"So we handle it just the way we handle a crime in the police department," Tarangelo says. "We do a key read, we interview all the maids, anybody that went into the room; P.S. long story short, everybody denies knowing where the ring is...The woman calls us up today: 'Gee, I'm really sorry, I found the ring at home.'

...McManus traces the current incarnation of the hotel detective to the sixties, when high-profile government officials—whether they happened to be visiting dignitaries or the president of the United States—started traveling with more sophisticated advance teams. "They were intense-looking young men with earpieces, and clearly they were of a much higher professional level," he says. "And the house dick almost became redundant in that scenario." These days, McManus adds, "It's an enormous strategic job. It's not just a matter of watching out for pickpockets or hookers."

posted by mediareport at 10:15 PM on December 12, 2005

[Btw, great question, and I just have to add a plug for my fave old-school house detective moment, Raymond Chandler's great short story "I'll Be Waiting." See this hardboiled fiction thread for more.]
posted by mediareport at 10:23 PM on December 12, 2005

It seems detective is a title as in police depts around the country. Maybe it's the same in the hotel industry. I above, the woman was promoted to detective from security specialist. Just a thought.
posted by jamie939 at 4:16 AM on December 13, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks, all, especially mediareport! This is very interesting to me to know that hotel detectives not only are not just a literary device, but that they're still around! Muchas gracias.
posted by Dr. Wu at 5:36 AM on December 13, 2005

Funny -- I asked my brother about this not long ago -- he's got good knowledge of old-time radio, Dashiell Hammett-type fiction, noir, and the like. He added some historical perspective, which I'll append to mediareport's very interesting detective work.

He reminded me that until recent decades the population which stayed in hotels, particularly high-end hotels, was quite different than what we find today. City hotel-stayers (as opposed to tourist-cabin, motor-court travellers) were far more likely to be people of means and influence. In addition, prior to the advent of credit cards in the early 60s, when these sorts of people travelled they carried a great deal of cash and/or checks. They were also likely to be travelling with significant collections of jewelry to wear to whatever functions they planned to attend, and, before the electronic age, perhaps even documents or contracts with business import. [This being why hotels did and still do offer safe-deposit boxes]. So the opportunity for thievery and fraud in hotels was, apparently, abundant. Con men, corrupt hotel staff, corporate spies, and padfoots (padfeet?) off the street were the stuff of an average hotel detective's day.
posted by Miko at 7:59 AM on December 13, 2005 [2 favorites]

I can't believe that with this crowd no one referenced the TMBG classic "She Was a Hotel Detective"!!
posted by LilBucner at 9:08 AM on December 13, 2005

From my work at a fine, old hotel in Saint Paul, MN, I can tell you that most hotels in non-Las Vegas locations have only front-line security staff. Essentially bouncers, whose job it is to keep the peace in the public spaces of the hotel and deal with noise and other conduct complaints from guests. No crime solving, no investigation beyond, "Are those kids smuggling booze into their rooms?" Just plain old security.

The Vegas landmark hotel/casino operations and similar super-big hotels elsewhere are a different matter, no doubt.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 10:38 AM on December 13, 2005

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