How to Conduct Surveillance
are many different needs for the use of surveillance. In this article we will discuss the different techniques used
mostly for worker’s compensation, insurance defense or domestic investigation.
Should a need arise for retail surveillance in which apprehension of a
shoplifter or a person suspected of shoplifting some of the techniques to be
discussed can be applied. In the event you have an occasion to conduct retail
surveillance we suggest caution, planning and education as a necessary part of
your planned surveillance procedure. There
is a major difference you will encounter in this retail surveillance as opposed
to the three types of surveillance we will be concentrating on in this manual.
The major difference is personal contact with the subject under
surveillance. You must be prepared
for possible physical confrontation in retail surveillance. Although this may
happen occasionally, personal or physical confrontation is a rare occurrence in
worker’s comp, insurance defense or domestic surveillance if the surveillance
is conducted properly.
and definitions used in this article:
The person, place or thing under surveillance.
The person conducting surveillance.
Any person the subject meets or confers with.
A person employed by a subject to detect surveillance.
Usually done by following the subject.
A person who attempts to divert the operative’s attention from the
Term indication that the subject has discovered the identity of an
surveillance: The target is not expected to become mobile.
surveillance: The target is moving,
either walking or in a vehicle.
is the systematic observation of person, places, or things to obtain
information. Surveillance is
generally carried out without the knowledge of those under surveillance and is
concerned primarily with people. Simply, surveillance is conducted in hopes that
the activity, whatever the purpose of the surveillance, will occur.
is conducted in one of two techniques either stationary or mobile.
Mobile surveillance is conducted in one of two techniques either on foot
or in a vehicle. One or all of
these techniques of surveillance may be used on a surveillance to accurately
document the target’s movements either by personal observation, photographs or
of the technique of surveillance to be conducting the objective is the same, to
gather and document information for personal knowledge or courtroom testimony.
most common technique of surveillance employed by private investigators is a
combination of stationary and mobile. Stationary
because the subject has not moved or has not made an appearance before mobile
surveillance is required. We will discuss the different techniques systematically.
first order of business is securing the surveillance job.
Selling the job as it were. All
the surveillance techniques learned in this manual will do no good if one does
not possess the expertise to sell one’s self and secure the job.
Remember when the potential client calls your office they may be shopping
for confidence more than price. Although
a competitive price is important your demeanor on the phone is what will sell
the job. Get the potential client
to discuss their problems their needs and goals of the surveillance on your
initial phone contact so you can build a raptor with the person before
discussing hourly rates. Remember
if it is a domestic call, is it probably one of the most difficult calls that
person will have to make to a stranger. Convince
the person that you are not a stranger by your demeanor, understanding and
knowledge of what it takes to get the job done.
Once you have secured the job and your upfront money, then and only then
should surveillance preparation will begin.
the job is secured and the upfront money is obtained then you should prepare a
case history investigative form that contains all the vital information needed
to identify the target. An example of a case history form is furnished with this
manual. First and foremost is to obtain an accurate address and description of
the target including any distinguishing marks, tattoos etc.
What vehicle will the target possibly be driving? What are the target’s
social habits? Information in the miscellaneous details section should include
details of why the investigation is required.
If domestic, the information should include why, what and who the spouse
suspects. If the investigation is a Worker’s Compensation case the
information should include details of the accident and the type of injury.
The target’s habits should also be listed.
Pertinent telephone number should be included. This information is
obtained from the client. Space should be provided for gathering additional
information thru the investigators traditional channels such as the motor
vehicle bureau, voter registration, directory assistance, etc.
that you have all the information needed to start the surveillance.
Equipment needed for the job should be prepared with a checklist.
The checklist should include, still camera, video camera, file, map,
flashlight, pad and pencil, toilet facility (applies to males), window covers,
binoculars and two way radios, at least one should be portable. Hats, sunglasses and a change of clothes are also
on which vehicle is the perfect surveillance vehicle is plentiful. There are
different opinions for each investigator you may talk with. Some recommendations
that the author has received over the years are, a white truck, because white
blends in and is unnoticeable or a van that is equipped with all the latest
equipment. I have a friend that
uses a red Cadillac and does well. The
bottom line is that the vehicle no matter what color, style or type will not be
of any use if the target notices any unusual vehicle in the area.
The vehicle used is of little importance if the investigator uses the
techniques and cautions outlined in this manual. If the vehicle is suspected
then the investigator has to change vehicle in order to continue the
surveillance in another location.
the location is in close proximity to the investigative office, a drive-by a
couple of days prior to starting the surveillance is recommended.
This may not be possible in all surveillance cases. The investigator will
have to make on the spot surveillance decisions as to what is the best location
for parking and blending on most of the jobs.
The purpose of the drive-by is to log any vehicles for identification
later and positive identification of the target’s address and residence at the
target’s address. The
investigators should log either by micro recorder or by physical notes any
activity seen at the time of the drive-by. The investigator should make notes on any items that would
indicate leisure activity or work activity along with a description of the house
and its location within the residential block. The investigator should make notes of the surrounding
neighbors and any animals seen in the neighborhood. The investigator should note
all possible surveillance locations including the rear and sides of the
residence and if one vehicle will do the job. The investigator should make note
of all possible avenues that the target might take when leaving the location.
The investigator should check all parallel routes in order to start the
surveillance with knowledge of the immediate area.
question always arises as to whether or not the investigator should notify the
police when ever conducting surveillance. This
is a question that has a different answer for different circumstances. My
recommendation is that the investigator must do what they feel is necessary to
protect their surveillance location. There
is no law that I know of in any state that requires notification of the police.
After all this is America and we enjoy the same freedoms as any other
businessperson does. We have
encountered police departments that state that they have a policy that
investigators check in with them before beginning investigations.
This so called policy is not law. The
question the investigator should ask themselves on some surveillance jobs after
assessing the surrounding area is “ how much trouble do I want to bring upon
myself and my surveillance?” The
investigator should determine from the neighborhood if the threat of being
exposed by police exist. The
decision to call in and notify the police so they won’t respond to a call from
a neighbor may be a good one and then again it may not.
rule number one is; “ Never take your eyes off of the target.”
recommendation for the beginning location of any surveillance is to pick the
farthest location from the target’s location that will allow the investigator
to see movement of any vehicles coming or going. When the surveillance is to be conducted in a residential
neighborhood it is a good idea to park with the rising sun or setting sun and in
the shade so the vehicle won’t be easy to see. When it is possible, blend into
a business parking lot and with other vehicles and place shades over in the
windshield to make it appear that the vehicle is empty.
Sometimes it becomes necessary to view at the target’s location
backwards in order to blend into the neighborhood.
Watching in the rear view mirror while the investigators vehicle is
pointed in the opposite direction is a bit more difficult because it narrows the
field of vision but is just as effective. Humans are creatures of habit.
Once the direction of travel of the target is established the
investigator should conduct the surveillance in the opposite direction if
possible. This will prevent the
investigator from having to leave in a hurry to get out of the line of sight of
the target and will prevent the investigator from taking their eye off of the
target. The investigator should
record the license plates on any vehicle that arrives at the residence. Although
it may not seem relevant at the time, the plate could be used to locate the
target in the event the investigator loses sight of the target.
If movement at the location is detected, the investigator should react by
starting the video or moving closer to assess what the movement indicates.
Either the target is getting ready to leave the location or is getting
ready to start activity that might be worthy of video or moving even closer to
the target. The investigator must be prepared to drive aggressively while
driving defensibly. Driving aggressive may require driving across a yellow light
or even a red light, making U-turns where one would normally not make U-turns,
cutting though parking lots etc. Mind
you that this is not a recommendation but a reality.
We never will recommend that an investigator break the law in any way in
the pursuit of their duties.
rule number Two; “if the target sees the investigator three times the
investigator is burnt.”
and children are the biggest worry the investigator has when parked on
surveillance. Dogs will bark, cows
and horses will look and sometime walk towards the investigator. Children are as
bold and will approach the investigator and sometime notify the neighborhood or
the target that someone is parked in the neighborhood with a camera.
time to time neighbors, kids and sometimes the target or a member of their
family will confront the investigator. The
investigator must have a story ready when the confrontation occurs.
Depending on the location of the investigator from the target, the
statement to the confronter could very well be, when asked what the investigator
is doing at the location, none of your business.
However even if this is true it may not be the very best approach because
it may cause the police to be summoned to the location. Generally, the
investigator could say he’s working child custody, car repossession or even
staking out a location for a bond jumper arrest or something simple such as
“I’m on official business.” Should
the police confront the investigator it is a good idea to tell the truth as to
the reason for being at the location without giving out specifics. The
investigator could withhold this information; but once again it depends on how
much trouble and/or aggravation the investigator wants.
VEHICLE TAILING THE TARGET
using one investigator one vehicle, tailing a target’s vehicle in the city and
tailing the target’s vehicle in the country require two different approaches.
When tailing in the country, a distance must be maintained to keep from
being burnt. On curves when the
target is out of sight, the investigator must close the distance and then back
off to a safe distance while maintaining eye contact with the vehicle. This will
prevent losing the vehicle should it turn off before the investigator has a
chance to get a visual, whether the vehicle turns or continues straight. When
tailing a target in the city the investigator must keep a closer vigilance on
the moving target’s vehicle because of the possibility of the investigator
hitting a red light and losing the target.
Keeping in mind the number one golden rule, “Never
take your eyes off of the target” the investigator should keep as close to
the target’s vehicle as possible in city block stretches without traffic
lights. If traffic lights exist it
is recommended that the investigator tailgate or at the very least do not leave
room for any other vehicle to come between the investigator’s and the
target’s vehicle eliminating the possibility of the investigator hitting the
red light while the target moves across and out of sight. In the event both the
investigator and the target are stopped at a traffic light and a vehicle is
between the two. The investigator
should leave room between themselves and the odd vehicle in the event the odd
vehicle stalls or does not move when the light changes.
The investigator will have enough room to go around. The investigator
should be aware as to whether or not the target is dragging the light in order
to check to see if they are being followed.
When following a target in the city the investigator might want to keep
the sun visor down blocking full view of the investigator in the target’s
rearview mirror. Since some targets will be more aware than others, this will
keep the investigator from being identified in the event leaving the vehicle
becomes necessary for a walking tail i.e. in a mall or shopping center.
close attention to the vehicles that visit the target’s residence or any
vehicles that leave the target’s residence when the tailing begins may save
the investigator from being “burnt” during the tailing surveillance.
The two vehicles may meet in traffic and if the investigator has to
quickly make a traffic light or quickly drive around a vehicle that is moving
slow, the investigator may call attention to their movements if the second
vehicle is traveling behind of along side of the target or the investigator.
The investigator has to be just as observant of what is happening around
them as the investigator might expect the target to be observing.
The investigator must be cautious as to what the target might be
observing without being paranoid. If
the investigator becomes paranoid, then they are sure to lose the target.
One reason investigators become paranoid is because people will look at
them while they are on surveillance. This
is a natural occurrence because it is human nature to look at someone when you
drive by. This natural occurrence should not necessarily be of concern
unless the person stops at the target’s residence or leaves the target’s
residence, drives-by and pays particular attention to the investigator’s
vehicle. If the target is
suspicious for any reason they may make a series of turns to see if they are
being followed or turn down a cul-de-sac. The
investigator if familiar with the area might want to wait for a time to allow
the target to exit the cul-de-sac depending on the purpose of the surveillance.
If the target does not exit in a reasonable amount of time the
investigator will be forced to make a drive by into the cul-de-sac to observe
where the vehicle is parked or any activity that the target may be engaged in.
The investigator should be sure to make notations of vehicles and a
description of item in the yard for possible future use.
What may not make any sense at the time may turn out to be significant
when solving the question as to what the target is doing at the residence.
a target pulls into a parking space the investigator should pull into a parking
space a across the street or a couple of spaces either before or after the
target. Park where it will be easy
to reenter the flow of traffic whenever the target starts to move again.
If there are no parking spaces available, circle the block immediately,
do not wait five or ten minutes and decide to find the perfect space.
This is when the investigator will likely lose the target. This is the
only time it will be recommended that the investigator take his eyes off of the
subject. Golden rule number three;
“if you want to make something happen, take your eyes off of the target i.e.,
leave the area for a bathroom break, to grab a quick bite in the drive thru
etc.” more often than not the target will leave the location causing the
investigator to report what they should try to avoid, I lost the target. Of course, the investigator may not lose the target but I
refer you back to Golden Rule # 1. Why take the chance?
the target enter a hotel, mall or possibly leaving the vehicle for the purpose
of creating a diversion for any friends that may see the target and recognize
their vehicle. The target may park
the vehicle and meet someone in another location, take the bus or a taxi.
The investigator may choose to continue surveillance on foot depending on
the purpose of the surveillance. Foot
surveillance is sometimes referred to as shadowing.
When shadowing the target on a long street with little foot traffic the
investigator should give the target a bigger lead than in a crowded mall.
As when the target is in a vehicle approaching a traffic light, when the
target approaches a corner the investigator should close the distance in the
event the target turns and is out of sight of the investigator briefly.
investigator is at a disadvantage if working alone because the target may exit
their vehicle and walk into a mall only to exit on the other side and enter a
vehicle of another person, a bus or have a taxi waiting for them.
If the surveillance is being conducted with two investigators, the
investigator than takes the foot surveillance should have a portable radio to
report back to the investigator who remained in the vehicle to take up the
area generally less people to deal with in residential neighborhoods. However,
the investigator can count on the outside neighbors to pay particular attention
to the investigator if he or she is seen too many times, especially if the
investigator is acting out of place and trying not to be noticed.
This is where a change of clothes comes in handy the investigator can
change into a walking outfit and blend in without any suspicious being raised by
the neighbor who is outside watering the lawn. It is recommended that when
shadowing a target walking in a residential neighborhood the investigator should
conduct the shadowing from across the street.
the target enters an office building and enters an elevator, depending on the
need to know, the investigator should enter the elevator with the target as
required by Golden Rule # 1. Depending
on how the surveillance has progressed thus far, the investigator should exit on
the same floor as the target and walk in the opposite direction at some point
the investigator can stop and turn as though they have walked in the wrong
direction or have dropped something. This
will give the investigator the opportunity to see which office the target has
entered without raising suspicion. If
the office is a doctor’s office the investigator can enter and pretend to sign
the sign in log and take a seat to observe the target.
If the surveillance is to begin on the target when they leave the
doctor’s office it is a good idea to arrive at the doctor’s office prior to
the appointment time of the target. When
the target arrives they must sign in and their name will be called when the
nurse is ready for them. This give
the investigator a good look for identification purpose when the appointment is
over and the surveillance is to begin. After
identifying which office the target entered then the investigator can return to
the lobby and wait for the target to exit the building.
the target enters a hotel the investigator must blend in with the guest and
attempt to follow the target until the room is established. Once the room number
is established the investigator should register and check into a room at the
hotel. This will help the investigator justify being on the hotel property
should a confrontation with hotel security occur. Once you establish that you are a hotel guest the hotel
security will have no grounds to question or bother you. The investigator should
attempt to get the room across from the target and make observations through the
peephole. Making contact with hotel
personnel may not be a good idea unless the investigator has dealt with them on
two investigators are employ on foot surveillance, one should shadow on the same
side of the street and the other one should shadow on the opposite side.
The investigators should change positions on occasions to keep the target
from becoming familiar with either of the investigators.
information contained in this manual has been a compilation of information
gleaned from 20 years of experience, surveillance articles and fellow
investigators that have been willing to share their stories with me. (Like
there is an investigator out there who doesn’t like to share war stories!!)
hope is that you learn just one fact that you didn’t know from this article.
More importantly, that you remember to use them when the situation
luck and I hope we never meet and I never see you in the future. (On the job
Trahan, “Your Louisiana Cajun Connection”
Example Case History Worksheet
ABC Investigators, Inc.
No. 08-________ Case Type ______
Date Received ___/___/___ Referred
_______________________________ Phone #: (____)_____-______
State: _____ Zip:
_______-_____ Fax #: (____)_____-______
_____________________ Middle: ______________ Last: ______________
___________________________ State: ____________ Zip: _________-________
SS#: ____-_____-_____ DL #/ State: _____________________
Race: _______ Sex: _______
Height: ______ Weight: _____ Hair: ______ Eyes:
Home Phone #:
Work Phone #: (____)_______-__________
_________________________ Job Description: _______________________
Trial Date: ____/____/____
Children & Schools:
Marriage; Date & Place: