Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Surveillance Tips

Performing surveillance for your personal needs is generally not illegal. However, if you do it in the ordinary course of your business, you will most likely have to be a licensed Private Investigator. Please research the laws in your state.

Most people assume that using a van is the best vehicle for surveillance. This is not always true. The aim is to blend in as much as possible, and a van can be conspicuous. Instead, use a four door sedan that is dark blue in color. Blue is the most popular color for a car, followed by green.

Imagine being an outfielder in a baseball game where your pitcher is pitching a no-hitter for the 8th straight inning. You just sit there and wait, but there is a chance that a fly ball will come your way. You can't dose off, read a book, or do your nails; you HAVE to keep watching and waiting.

That's surveillance. A lot of waiting. It takes a special kind of person to be proficient at it. You have to remain alert and ready for action after sitting in your car waiting for hours on end. And you cannot rightly drive off to McDonalds to get some more fries and a coke and relieve yourself, because you risk the chance of losing your subject.

Dealing with the boredom and tedium of surveillance is the easy part. You can always rent books on tape from Blockbuster, or listen to the radio, or learn how to count backwards in Russian.

If it is within your budget, rent your vehicles. This will enable you to use a variety of vehicles and minimize your chances of being spotted.

Let's try this common scenario: You need to find out if John Doe is working at the same time he is collecting disability.

Unfortunately, the best way to perform surveillance is impractical. Example: In this scenario, it would be best to have a team of investigators with cars and vans, scrambled radio communications capabilities, long range telephoto lenses for their Nikon F3's, telescopes, various apartments and houses rented out for vantage points, and a relief team to back them up when they get a little sleepy. Let's get real, shall we?

If you're lucky your client will have enough in their budget to be able to pay for a two person team to watch a subject. Most of the time it will be just you, your car and your tapes. Hopefully you will have some binoculars, a still camera, a video camera, and a small tape recorder to record the path you are taking when following your subject.

First off, survey the neighborhood. Find several points where you can see all the exits of John Doe's house, and yet be far away enough, where it would be difficult for him to see you. Study a detailed map of the area. Become familiar with the streets, alleys, shortcuts, and alternative routes. Plan to be there early in the morning depending on what you suspect Mr.Doe might do. Example: If he is a carpenter, you will want to be there before sunrise; if he works retail, be there an hour or two before the stores open.

You do not want to alarm neighbors! They will be the demise of your case if you are not prepared. Call the local police department and explain that you are an Investigator and are conducting a surveillance in a given area. Describe yourself, your vehicle, the approximate location of where you will be, and the times you will be there. Go down to the station, if possible, and speak with a detective or sergeant. Leave them your business card and be friendly and professional. Try to convince the persons you speak with to notify the neighbors that you are working in cooperation with the police. It may be a little misleading, but if a neighbor calls the police they will hopefully put that neighbor at ease, making him or her believe that this is a police matter. If a neighbor spots you, smile. If the neighbor approaches you, be friendly, polite, and professional. Explain that you are an Investigator and are working in cooperation with the local police department. But apologize that , by law, you cannot share any details about what you are doing. By all means, subdue any panic the neighbor may exhibit regarding "Criminal Activity" in the neighborhood. Say that none of the neighbors are suspected in any wrong doing and assure them there will NOT be a swat team there. If you think it will not compromise your case, show them ID and give them your business card. Also offer to keep an eye out on their place, saying you will let them know if anything suspicious goes on.

As in any case requiring surveillance, there is the possibility of the neighbor telling everyone in the neighborhood. Then your cover is blown.

Carry a small tape recorder for recording your path when following a subject. Example: "Subject made a left turn on Elm (south), then a right turn on Main (West), and stopped at the Burger King drive thru. at 123 North Main." This way you can easily retrace your steps and you can focus on driving and not writing while driving. It is also a strong tool for writing your report when the case is complete. It can also be used as evidence, so DO NOT erase it. Keep in a safe place like an evidence locker or safe.

Surveillance Techniques:

The most common is to follow your subject in a car. Use common sense. Try to keep as much distance between you and your subject as possible, while still maintaining a close tail. Try to keep at least one vehicle between you and your subject. Chances are you will lose your subject in traffic. This is better than having him suspect you are following him and speeding off to places unknown. If you lose your subject you will just have to start over the next day. But there is an optional technique . . .
People are creatures of habit. Think about it. How long have YOU worked at your job? Now, how many different routes do you take to drive to work? I would bet you answered "One" to the last question. This is true for most people. Although I'm sure there are people who use multiple routes to get to and from work, but I would wager that even if they do use multiple routes, they are very similar and close to one another.
Try this: If you lose him at 123 North Main St. at 8:38 AM during the work week, there is a very good chance that he will be passing by there the next day at 8:38 AM. So be there. If he's there the next day and you lose him again, be where you lost him the next day, and so on until you reach your goal.
Multiple Vehicle for surveillance. This technique is much the same, except you have much more flexibility. You can both follow your subject and change places as you see fit. Example: Car #1 could remain behind the subject while car #2 could be closely in front of him. Car #2 could radio when and where the subject has turned. At this point car#1 could pick up the "close" position, and eventually pass the subject and take a position ahead of the subject, and so on. Of course, the more vehicle and investigators you have the more efficient you will be.
Surveillance on foot. Again, use common sense. If you have to follow someone during a lunch hour, dress as your subject would dress. He might go into a nice restaurant for lunch. You will want to be able to get into the restaurant, too, and maybe sit at the bar or at a table where you can see your subject. It's also a good idea to carry some disguises. Disguises?! Yup. Nothing elaborate is needed. Just a change of a shirt, pants, or shoes, a hat or two, a couple pair of sunglasses or prescription glasses, and yes a fake mustache. If you are not going to get face to face with your subject, these few items will take you a long long way. Just think of how many people you encounter on a daily basis. Can you remember what they all look like? If you could, you probably wouldn't be reading this . . .
Surveillance is very difficult to perform successfully. You have to have the patience of a saint and a keen sense of human behavior and good common sense. Also consider other options to surveillance. A pretext telephone call can work wonders if executed properly. Good luck!

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