Surveillance is an advanced investigative technique that takes many hours of practice to master. I do not recommend that you conduct surveillance on a subject unless you are a licensed private investigator. Without training and experience, you could get yourself into a lot of trouble by arousing the suspicion of someone who thinks you are in the act of committing a crime. Further, if you are not accomplished at conducting surveillance, there is a strong possibility that your subject will see you, which could cause major damage to your investigation.
My main reason for describing surveillance work is to give you a better idea how professional investigators work. If you should ever need to hire a private investigator to conduct surveillance, this chapter will give you a good idea of what to expect from them.
Physical surveillance is one of the most common techniques used by investigators to obtain necessary information. Surveillance, or shadowing, involves following a person, both closely enough not to lose them (close tail), and far enough away to avoid detection (loose tail). Effective surveillance requires much practice and a good measure of patience since you may find yourself tailing someone for hours, or even waiting for them just to appear.
A couple of terms in surveillance that you should be aware of are "getting warm" and "being burned." "Warm" means that the subject suspects that you are following them, while "burned" means that the subject knows you are following them and knows who it is. Experts agree that losing a subject is better than "burning" a case since you can usually locate a subject again. But once they know you are following them, your case is finished.
One thing to remember when conducting surveillance is to blend in with the crowd. Don't carry any objects, such as a briefcase, cigar or umbrella (unless it's raining) that could distinguish you from others around you. In addition, it is rarely necessary to wear a disguise. Experts generally warn novices to avoid putting on a fake moustache or beard because, usually, they look fake. Make-up artists make good consultants if it should become necessary to disguise yourself.
If you want to change your appearance, you can do so by putting on or taking off a coat or hat. This is usually effective, but you also might want to carry a change of clothes in your car just in case. Having one or two pairs of glasses can also help.
Investigators often follow their subjects on foot and this surveillance method requires special techniques. The cardinal rule is "never lose sight of your subject." Sometimes, in heavy pedestrian traffic, this is easier said than done. In heavy traffic, follow your subject by about eight to nine feet, much farther if there is little or no other foot traffic. Walking on the opposite side of the street may be a good way to follow someone without risking detection.
If your subject turns around, just act natural; don't panic and don't make any abrupt movements like darting into an alley or quickly hiding behind some object. If possible, simply stop and look in a shop window and use the reflection in the glass to observe your subject. If that won't work, pass by your subject nonchalantly, stop a short distance ahead, look in a window and then take a casual look back toward your subject. But, it is a good idea not to meet their eyes since it will be easier for a subject to notice and remember you if your eyes briefly lock glances.
If your subject enters some public place like a restaurant, train, or bus, you will need to follow them inside. For these situations you will need to carry a sufficient amount of cash to cover your expenses. Credit cards can help in case your subject decides to take a train or plane to another city or state.
"Warm" subjects use a variety of tactics to discover if they are being followed. One way is to reverse their course of direction. Following on the opposite side of the street can help you avoid detection if your subject tries this. Walking around a corner and stopping suddenly is another method subjects use to catch investigators on their trail. If this happens to you, just keep on walking around the corner, then turn back when it's safe.
A subject might intentionally drop a piece of paper on the ground to see if someone picks it up. Other ways subjects spot a tail include slipping into public places like restaurants, theatres, or hotels and exiting immediately through another door. Getting on a subway, public transit, or bus and then jumping off just before the doors close is a common method. If this happens to you, just stay on until the next stop and hope you can find your subject again. Don't attempt to jump off with the subject.
Moving to a deserted area is an easy way for a subject to spot a tail since there is no concealment. In addition, a very suspicious subject may have another person around them acting as a lookout.
Some Surveillance Do's...
- Know as much about your subject as possible.
- Verify subject's address.
- Know the area where the surveillance will begin.
- Be properly equipped.
- Arrive early.
- When seated in a car, attract as little attention as possible.
- Watch subject's location carefully.
- Look ahead and anticipate anything.
- Watch the subject's rear closely. (the car, you fool)
- Keep intervening traffic under control when doing vehicle surveillance.
- Try to know beforehand the general direction that the subject will be heading.
The type of vehicle you drive is important, as you do not wish to stand out. Your vehicle should be as similar as possible to other cars in the area. I have found that a later model two or four door sedan, or van, with a standard, non-flashy, neutral paint finish usually blends in nicely. Tan, dark, light blue, and white, are colors that don't call attention to themselves.
If you are working in an upper-class neighborhood, I would advise not using an older model car or rusty van as you would be drawing much attention to yourself. Whenever possible, use a newer model van as your surveillance unit.
Your vehicle should always be in excellent working condition and you should fill your gas tank before starting surveillance. It is very frustrating to have to stop because your gas gauge reads empty. You should have all your fluid levels and belts checked regularly. There is nothing worse than a vehicle that won't run right during a surveillance.
For vehicle surveillance that will last a few days, you might want to try switching units each day to avoid detection. Since you might not have more than one vehicle, you might borrow or rent a car or van from a low cost rental agency. Be aware that even if you are driving a rental car and your subject "makes" you, they could find out who you are through the rental agency. Therefore, you must use the same precautions as you would use driving your own vehicle.
Remember to keep essential equipment in your vehicle at all times. This includes flashlight, maps of the city and state, a camera, tape recorder, binoculars, and a packed overnight bag. Also, a pair of rubber-soled shoes will be of use if you have to leave the car and follow on foot.
Initiating the Surveillance
The way you begin your vehicle surveillance may decide the success or failure of your operation. Real-life surveillance is not like the movies where the surveillance vehicle parks across the street and starts up when the subject comes out. This is far too conspicuous and a deaf, dumb and blind subject probably would notice you.
It is much less risky to park down the block with a good telescope or set of binoculars. The surrounding geography may help you in this regard. Each new surveillance location usually has a perfect spot where the investigator can observe the subject come out to their car, and which also allows the investigator to follow the subject in any direction without concern.
If your subject is on a one way street, you may park just down the street or around the corner with a reasonable expectation that the subject will drive past you when they leave. This allows you to reduce your risk of detection when initiating surveillance.
Surveillance in progress...
While tailing a vehicle, keep at least one or two cars between you and the subject's car. Also, do not remain constantly behind the subject; change lanes often. Try not to appear fully in their rear-view mirror.
The distance between you and your subject will vary according to the traffic conditions and the type of area in which you find yourself. Dense city traffic requires you to stay very close to the subject. In rural areas you may have to keep a distance of hundreds of yards to avoid detection.
Always try to stay in the subject's blind spot whenever possible. This only works, of course, in city traffic and on roads that have more than one lane. The blind spot to the subject's right rear is usually the one allowing the least visibility.
Noticing whether the subject has a companion or is alone is important along with what the companion is doing. If the companion is turning their head around every few seconds, they may be watching for a "tail". Here you would have to be much more cautious.
While it is impossible to change a vehicle's appearance totally, there are some small things that can be done to reduce the sense of familiarity with it. The simple changing of positions by you and your partner(s) in the surveillance vehicle can modify your general appearance. Your partner can crouch down in the seat sometimes and you may even change your posture behind the wheel.
Also, you and your partner(s) could put on and remove caps and sunglasses. Depending on the weather you also can change coats or jackets. These things have a tendency to change the general appearance of the surveillance unit as a whole.
With experience, you develop some preplanned moves that allow you to stay successfully with your subject, even under difficult situations. But sometimes, pure luck and inspiration play their part too.
If, for some reason, the subject stops, parks, or turns a corner before you can do so, don't panic. Drive past the subject, make the first turn you can and continue following from there, or park in the first available spot if you find the subject has parked.
Other strategies and terms you need to know include "leap frog", or "sandwich tailing" and "paralleling." The sandwich tail, or leap frog, is where two investigators participate in the tail; "A" is in front of the subject and "B" is far enough behind the subject that they remain undetected. "A" radios to "B" to tell them when the subject turns or parks.
After a while, or if "A" loses the subject, "B" closes the gap. When "A" is in position behind "B", then "B" passes the subject and takes over "A" 's original position. Of course, "A" then assumes the rear position. When properly carried out, this technique lowers suspicion and may be used for an extended period.
Much more difficult, paralleling is when the investigator tails a subject in a vehicle on a street parallel to the one the subject is driving on. Usually, the investigator will check at each intersection to see if the subject is still following the same course. If the subject isn't there, that means they either stopped on the last block, or turned the corner. The investigator must then discover the subject's exact location as quickly as possible.
When tailing an unsuspecting subject who is driving fast, it is best to follow in the same lane. Never allow too many vehicles to get between you and the subject. This is especially true if the subject is travelling in the fast or left turn lane. Suddenly, the subject may turn onto a side street and, unfortunately, lose you due to heavy oncoming traffic.
Serious problems can arise when approaching traffic signals. Remember, you are not driving a police or emergency vehicle and are liable for any traffic infractions that you may incur. Erratic driving also can arouse the suspicions of your subject. If your subject does not suspect a "tail", it is not uncommon to follow the vehicle almost directly behind. This is especially advantageous in heavy, city traffic.
When approaching traffic lights at an intersection it is helpful to watch the pedestrian cross-walk signals. These let you know how fresh or stale your green light is. If the pedestrian signal shows a white or green light, you know that you have a fresh green light. You don't have to hurry as much to get through the intersection. But, if the pedestrian signal shows solid or blinking red, you have a stale green traffic light that could turn yellow at any moment. Here, you have to get through the intersection, behind or next to your subject, as soon as possible.
In residential areas, it is somewhat easy to maintain a "loose tail" and observe parked cars from a considerable distance with the use of binoculars. But, you must use extreme caution and never let anyone see you using binoculars. This will arouse enough suspicion for the neighbors to call the police.
When observing the subject and their associates, make complete detailed notes at the time or as soon as possible, noting complete descriptions of clothing and physical appearances. If appropriate, photograph what you see whenever possible, as photographic evidence is difficult to repute in a Court of Law. We will be discussing note taking and photography later in the book.
Perhaps you have prior information that your subject will be travelling to a specific location, such as another home, hotel or motel. If this is the case, you may not need to attempt to follow the vehicle. You might proceed ahead of them and locate an appropriate place of hiding before their arrival.