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SURVEILLANCE

Surveillance

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One of the most essential skills an investigator can have is surveillance. Surveillance is
an art form with techniques limited only by ones creativity. There have been many
articles written on the subject relating to method. The area that has in my opinion been
lacking in information is in the public perception of how a surveillance operation is
conducted. The mere mention of private investigations sparks images of Thomas
Magnum in his bright red Ferrari following close on the bumper of a subject around an
island community without the least concern for losing the subject or worse yet being
discovered. It must certainly help to have a friend with a helicopter service that happens
to be available at a crucial moment of a case. Of course this advantage must play into the
fact that almost every case is solved within each 30 minute episode. The reality is not so
simple.

The surveillance investigator has many challenges to overcome to be successful in the
field. The first is usually boredom. I cannot count the number of cases I have worked that
required several hours of patient waiting just to get less than a minute of crucial evidence
for a case. Let your concentration lag at the wrong moment and the opportunity is missed.
Environment is also a factor that plays a role in the way surveillance is conducted. A
busy city street may be a place where you can remain for longer periods without drawing
attention but you wouldn’t want to try it on a quiet neighborhood street or near a school.
Invariably you are always going to be noticed by someone. The trick is not to be noticed
by those associated with your subject. Another factor to consider is traffic. The traffic
conditions play a big role in the way a mobile surveillance can be conducted. If you
follow too close you run the risk of being noticed by the subject. Follow too far back and
it is easier to lose the subject in traffic. Of course you must obey all traffic laws. I once
lost a subject in the city as she drove down a street with a series of stop signs that went on
block after block. With each intersection we went through the gap just got wider and
wider. As she would drive through I would have to stop and a car would turn in front of
me or pass through making the stop longer. As more cars got in between, the wait at each
consecutive intersection got that much longer until finally she was gone from view. On
another occasion, I watched as a subject turned left at a signal light just as a lady with a
walker entered the crosswalk in front of me. I shot some nice video as my subject
disappeared into the distance. This is just an example of the many unforeseen factors that
play into a field surveillance. Of course there are ways to overcome most of these
challenges. With time and experience an investigator can anticipate certain pitfalls and
learn to expect the unexpected.

There are two important factors to consider when planning surveillance. How much time
do you have and what is the budget. If time is short and the client does not mind the
expense, multiple vehicles and investigators can be deployed to minimize the risk of
losing a subject or being discovered. Law enforcement agencies will deploy multiple agents in an area to maintain surveillance of a subject without the subject seeing the same
vehicle or faces twice in the same day. For what it costs to hire private investigators, this
is not likely in the private sector. In most cases an investigator will have to rely on
creativity to get the job done. If there is time an investigator can learn the habits of a
subject by conducting surveillance for shorter periods over several days to learn when the
subject is likely to be at a certain place. Then it is simply a matter of being ready with a
camera at the right time to get the money shot. This is especially true with domestic
cases. Take the time to learn when and where the subject likes to meet the other person
and be there with the camera ready when they show up. With subjects that are difficult to
follow you can use a stepped method to determine where they are going. In other words
you follow to a certain point when you lose the subject or feel that you may be pushing
too hard and let them go. The next time, you set up your surveillance in that area and
follow from there when the subject shows up. Repeat this process until you learn the
places the subject frequently visits. By learning the habits of a subject in this way you
will know where to set up with your camera to get the shot you are after. This works well
with personal injury cases. We found that an allegedly disabled subject liked to play golf
at a local course a couple days a week. Once that was established, it was a simple matter
to get multiple days of video over a period of time that established a regular pattern of
behavior. By using this same method we were able to learn that a subject with a
debilitating injury to his shoulder liked to wash his car in his father’s driveway at a
certain time every week. All we needed to do was wait down the street from his father’s
house on that day every week and we were able to shoot video of the subject washing
cars for several consecutive weeks. This is a popular method with the paparazzi. It does
however require time to establish the habits of the subject in this manner. Most clients
expect that you should just go out and catch the subject in a few hours. It is common for
an investigator to have to plan and execute field surveillance with short notice and only a
few hours to work with. The methods that can be used are only limited by the creativity
of the investigator. Patience is the key to success. Remember, it is always better to let a
subject go rather than get caught. If you pull back on a surveillance you are not sure
about the client has the chance to try again. If you push too hard and burn a case you will
not be able to get near the subject again for a long time, if ever. It is during these cases
that the skill of the investigator is put to the test. Of course, a little luck doesn’t hurt
either.

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C Patrick Associates Texas Lic. A19421, California Lic #25221