Surveillance is more an art than it is a science. The best surveillance practices are harnessed and developed through trial and error. Be it performing domestic investigations or insurance, surveillance is integral to a private investigator’s duty.
The tips below will aid you in conducting efficient and successful surveillance.
Flesh out the details.
Gather all the information you need from your client right off the bat. Ask them as much information during your initial meeting. Clients may give you only the basic details (e.g. the name of the subject, age, and address) so it helps to probe them further to squeeze out more substantial information. Prepare a detailed intake sheet where you can put together all the information in a single file.
Examples of other information you can gather upfront are:
- Marital status
- Number of children
- Doctor appointments
- Therapy appointments
The information above will give you a clearer insight into the subject’s daily routine, helping you to vary your moves once in the field. In addition, these pieces of details, when augmented with public and proprietary database searches, will help you give your client a cost-effective investigation.
Choose a vehicle that blends into the environment.
The more inconspicuous the vehicle you use, the more successful your surveillance will be. Choose a colour that doesn’t draw too much attention. Black, white, gray, and silver are the most common colours for cars.
Avoid yellow, red, and custom paint jobs that are too flashy. Never put bumper and window stickers, vanity plates, handicapped plates, customized accessories, custom rims, and any attachments to your antenna. Your vehicle should neither be spotlessly clean or grubby.
In terms of window tints, avoid getting a limousine tint as it gets too dark for early morning and late-night surveillance. A dark tint, windshield cover, and dark surveillance curtains should be enough to obscure your presence. More importantly, comply with Canadian window tint laws.
Do a pre-surveillance inspection.
Some companies do not conduct pre-surveillance checks due to financial reasons, even if it helps them put out polished work. During pre-surveillance inspections, the investigator drives by the home address of the subject the day before a scheduled early morning surveillance.
This way, the investigator can confirm the correct address in the daytime, check out the vehicles present, and spot a good place to park his vehicle. Upon arrival at the area of surveillance, identify the main route of departure. You want to determine which way people take to leave the area. Remember to find the location on Google Maps to get a bigger glimpse of the entire area.
Pre-surveillance checks are also an opportunity to anticipate potential challenges and look for possible exit points. Consider these inspections a vital first step to a successful job.
Decide on the best time to start.
The best time for liability surveillance is at 6:00 in the morning. Anytime later than that can put you at risk of losing your subject or wondering if they’re still home. It’s best practice to sit in front, especially if you don’t have a clear view of the residence. When your subject is leaving, you don’t have enough time to move from the back to the front seat. As soon as you notice your subject is departing, start your car right away and start moving.
Position for better surveillance, quickly.
Move your vehicle into position and set up rather quickly, especially when you’re doing surveillance in a residential area. If you conducted a pre-surveillance check, you’ll head right into your pre-determined spot instead of wasting time going around the block twice or locating a good spot to set up surveillance. Aim for less noticeable spots, like parking in between two residences, next to a wall or vegetation, or beside large trees.
If you need to get a view of your subject’s home, make sure to be at least 5 houses away from it so as not to raise suspicion. As long as you can see people or vehicles around the residence, you’re in a good spot.
Know when and when not to break off surveillance.
One of the major pitfalls neophyte and veteran investigators make is thinking they can hit pause on their surveillance to grab a bite or go for a restroom break. Anytime you take your eyes off your subject can be the time they leave the place, so always be prepared to do long, uninterrupted surveillance.
One way to do so is to keep an ice chest, storing everything you’ll need for the next couple of hours: from water, energy bars, fruit, and anything else that will give you an energy boost. When nature calls, you need to stay where you are. Use old water bottles or juice jugs to store urine (ensure they have a lid). Female investigators may consider getting a portable and reusable RV toilet.
Success in the art of surveillance requires investigators to be very observant and focused. Vigilance will get you far. Pay close attention to the slightest changes in your subject’s behaviour and environment. Is your subject’s lawn unmowed unlike that of their neighbours’? Is his trash left untouched on the side of his house when it’s supposed to be trash pickup day? Why are there bags of fertilizer on your subject’s garage door? Try to grease your reasoning powers when observing your subject’s habits and environment. Also, establish certain patterns in their behaviour.
Have hard facts only.
Sift through the clutter. What should reflect on your surveillance notes are clear and concise information based on facts, not opinion. You should write your notes like they’re going to be used for a subpoena. Steer clear from derogatory or discriminatory comments referring to the subject; they’re unprofessional and might be used against your client in court.
Tail that car.
Get a better view of your subject when they’re onboard a moving vehicle, close enough that you can observe what they are doing. The distance you’re allowed to keep between your vehicle and your subject’s is defined by the traffic situation. If there’s heavy traffic, try to stay close; if you’re in a rural or highway traffic, allow a little distance between your vehicles.
When you tail a subject on the road, consider spotting anything on their vehicle that can help you to easily identify them (or support any information you have). This can be anything from bumper and window stickers to body damage to accessories. Regardless of the type of vehicle they’re driving, once you start closing in on them in traffic, you’ll be able to single that particular vehicle wherever they’re headed.
There’s always something new to learn from every surveillance work. Whether you’re just starting out or a seasoned private investigator, you’ll get better over time when you’re self-aware and learn from every mistake you make. The key is to always be open to new learning.
Train for the future.
Training is essential for any aspiring investigator who wants to fast-track their success in the field. It pays to have a solid understanding and skills to become a licensed and full-fledged private investigator in Ontario. If you want to boost your competence and become an investigator who’s worth their salt, enroll in a private investigator course in Toronto. Let Center for Security Training and Management Inc. be your partner in achieving your dreams.
Our Toronto private investigator course includes a practical surveillance exercise and hands-on practical statement-taking instruction to equip you for the real world. For questions, call us through the following numbers: (416) 750-4747, 1 (866) 297-0003. You can also send us a message so we can send you detailed information about our courses, as well as the registration form.