As more groups leave the field of Paranormal Investigations a problem is growing in frequency. It is becoming somewhat of an issue in many areas.
The question is often asked, "How do I find or start a group?" What is overlooked and seldom considered is, " How do I disassociate from a group or end my investigations?" This article will address that topic.
When one has been doing investigations, especially if private clients were involved, a responsibility exists to these clients and also to the group to end any relationship in a manner which maintains respect and the confidentiality that was established. There are actually a couple different scenarios that could apply, we'll look at each since the methods vary considerably.
You decide to Leave The Group
First case would be a situation where you have decided to break from a group. We will assume the group itself continues to be active. This is probably the easiest situation to deal with. Both you and the group need to remember, the investigation field is not a turf war. The relationship between you and any previous clients determines the next course of action. If you were simply a member of the group and the client dealt primarily with some other member then that relationship should continue. Any evidence or documentation you may have in your possession goes to the group. You on the other hand must maintain strict confidentiality. If you become involved with another group what you may have heard about previous cases stays with the previous group. Even though you are no longer a member of the group, any confidentiality established while you were involved remains in effect.
Now suppose you were the primary contact person with that group. In those cases you should notify the client you are no longer associated with the group. The client will then make a determination whether to stay with the previous group or break contact with them and continue with you. Of course if you are ceasing all investigations you can make recommendations to the client of someone to take over their case. That will depend on the circumstances involved. Some groups may take offense at this but it must be remembered the client, not the group, determines who he wants to pursue his case. To any who do I say, "Get over it."
One more thing needs pointed out here. The client owns the data regardless of whether you or the previous group are in possession of it. Therefore if the client decides to keep you on the case and disassociate from the previous group for any reason the group is obligated to release all data related to their case to you and they must also maintain whatever level of confidentiality the client demands. Many groups have the mistaken belief they own the data. In fact, in all situations, any data or evidence collected belongs to the client and the client has final say over how this information is distributed.
The Group Decides to Disband
The second case scenario would be a situation where your group has decided to disband. This case also applies to independent investigators who have decided to get out of the active investigation field. The first consideration is what becomes of data collected. As stated earlier private client data remains the property of the client. It should be returned to the client. Even though the group is gone confidentiality remains in force to the level the client specifies. Every former member of the group is obligated to maintain this privacy. Only if the client gives explicit permission may such evidence be passed along to others or published.
Another concern regarding private clients is ongoing support. If the case was active at the time the group is disbanding they might also consider continuing support for the case. This is actually the preferred method since from the client's point of view nothing actually changes. In the case of groups disbanding often one or two members can maintain this support even if the majority of the previous members move on. As for how long this support should be maintained I recommend one year from the time of the last major activity. Any case with no activity for about a year can be considered cold. Subsequent activity would then treated as a new case and could be referred to another investigator.
Evidence or data that was collected by the group at public or group activities belongs to the group. As such they can determine how to dispose of it. My personal recommendation is to turn it over to another active group where it might be added to a data base and benefit other researchers. Remember this is not a turf war; evidence can be helpful to others even though your group has decided to call it quits.
The next important step cannot be screamed loud enough, GET RID OF YOUR WEBSITE! There is nothing worse than groups who still have websites even though the group has been gone for years. I realize the search engines will still display them when a search is made. The fix is for the webmaster of the disbanded group to change the pages. If arrangements have been made for some other group to take over responsibilities then the best way is for the disbanded group to put a redirect on their old pages. The redirect would transfer anyone who opened an old page to the new group. If no one is taking over then simply delete the pages and close the site. Visitors will get the infamous "404 Page not found" message. But that is much better than having a prospective client attempt to contact a defunct group and never receive an answer.
The final concern is equipment. If the group is disbanding disposing of their equipment could be an issue. The determining factor will be who purchased the equipment. Obviously if the founder bought everything with his own funds then the equipment remains his. But if the equipment was bought using dues or group funds then it belongs to everyone who contributed. Perhaps the easiest method is to simply sell everything and divide the proceeds. Some groups have already addressed this issue and have agreements in place to cover it. If that is the case then the agreement should be followed.
In closing I should point out that groups and investigators ceasing operations is one of the problems many are encountering as more and more are leaving the field. If the group did only public and group investigations it may not be such a problem to just close up shop. But if you did private investigations clients who put their trust in you deserve a certain amount of respect. Those who simply walk away leave clients confused and give other investigators a bad reputation. So how you disband becomes in some ways even more important than how you start a group. Hopefully this essay has given some pointers.