The Art of Surveillance: Part I

Surveillance is perhaps the most commonly used technique of any Private Investigator.In many respects all the technology around today makes the life of a private investigator quicker and easier. However, for many cases the old fashioned method of surveillance just can not be replaced. Sometimes the only way to find the truth is to pursue it at it’s source.When is Surveillance Used?In basic terms surveillance is used when the client needs to know more about certain activities than can be obtained by more direct means.The most obvious application is with a suspected cheating partner. This is usually termed as “covert” surveillance as it is done in secret.Private investigators use surveillance for a range of cases. Another instance where surveillance has been used is in uncovering corrupt practices. One example is a case where agents are employed in a large corporation where there are suspicions that some people are carrying out shady deals with suppliers. The agent’s task in this scenario is to get close to the inner circle of those suspected and observe what is happening.Abducted children cases is another example where surveillance is used. Private investigators are asked to watch guardian and children activities. In one custody battle example the private investigators had to verify a claim that the children (aged between 10 and 16) had not been to school for a year. As you will appreciate different forms of evidence are obtained to support (or deny) this claim, but one of the main activities is often active surveillance for a period of a month during school term time.Surveillance can also be used when all other means of gaining information, intelligence, or evidence has been exhausted or has been to difficult to achieve.Types of SurveillancePrivate investigators usually subdivide surveillance into static and mobile, and overt and covert.StaticStatic surveillance is done from a fixed base, where the agent does not move away. Examples include a parked vehicle, or in a building such as a restaurant.In the example above where agents had undercover agents in a company this would be classed as static surveillance.MobileMobile surveillance is done by an agent when the target is on the move such as in a car or on foor.CovertCovert surveillance is the most commonly used form for private investigators. Basically the target should not know that they are under surveillance.OvertOvert surveillance can simply be in the form of a supervisor walking around checking each person’s work, either in the form of surveillance cameras, as set up in banks and places of high risk. The point in this example is to ensure procedures are being conducted correctly and as a deterrent to a prospective offender.Private investigators may be asked to conduct overt surveillance by placing hidden cameras in a hotel room. This is something that should not be done. It is illegal to do this unless it is done by the authorities with the correct documentation.DifficultiesCarrying out a covert surveillance operation can be very difficult. The main difficulties include:LocationEvery location has its own unique challenges.Airports for example are pretty easy in some respects. It is relatively easy to go around and be inconspicuous. Private investigation agencies often use a man and a woman in airports with one of them having hand luggage with a flight tag on it.On the other hand following someone out of an airport requires careful planning and setting up. Most agencies usually will have 4 to 6 agents in an airport. There is the man and woman on the ground at the arrival gate for example.You will then need other agents ready to mobilise near all the exit points.It is usually impossible to predict how targets will leave an airport. They could go by public transport, taxi or be picked up.If they leave the airport by public transport then the agents at the gate will follow. If they get into a taxi or car then the agents at the gate must radio the agents at the exit points with the vehicle details. These agents will then pick up the target on the road.Target AwarenessIn a few cases a target may be such that they are naturally cautious that they could be a subject of surveillance.There is an example of target that had allegedly stolen over 1 million dollars. A professional private investigation agency will bring this knowledge into the planning process. So for example it makes sense to have agents continually switching pole positions. This means more resources are needed, maybe a team of three or four agents.Surveillance AgentThe agent must be skilled and experienced. A Private Investigation Agency will never send out a new agent on their own. Senior investigators will lead a surveillance with junior agents supporting.Surveillance investigators should possess a number of skills.Patient;
The ability to maintain concentration for long periods of time;
The ability to work without supervision;
The ability to appear as “Mr. or Mrs. Average”, so they do not arouse suspicion by their activity;
The ability to improvise.