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How to Conduct More Successful Surveillance

Surveillance is a critical tool in any investigation, often requested to get details that a client wants. When performed correctly, a Private Investigator can find plenty of information taking this approach, but the methodology is a key factor in conducting surveillance. Consider some of the surveillance tips listed below to help hone your observation skills and maximize the reward of a surveillance investigation.

Perform a Thorough Intake

Before you even climb in your car and  begin the investigation on the target of your investigation, it’s important to start your job right and perform a thorough client intake at the first meeting. Having complete and accurate information is vital to your case so you don’t waste your time chasing the wrong leads. No matter how difficult the question, if it’s essential to your investigation, you should ask it.

Private Investigators usually prefer to have a photograph of the subject they plan to observe. Other information you may ask for could include:

  • Current address
  • Any known health issues requiring regular doctor visits and upcoming appointment details
  • Kids at home, in school, or living out of the home
  • Hobbies and extracurriculars they participate in
  • Work or school schedule
  • Any other schedule details they might know about
  • What is the expected outcome?  What is the client asking you to investigate?

These details will help you determine the best time and location to   conduct your investigation on the subject and the circumstances that might affect their behavior.

Use a Surveillance Vehicle That Blends In

Surveillance is all about watching someone’s action when they’re not aware that they’re being watched or noticed. Using a vehicle covered in bright, flashy colors like yellow or red will draw attention to your presence in an area where you don’t belong. Try to pick a common vehicle in a dull color that anyone might own. Generic looking cars are ideal for blending into the scenery and not getting a second look. It also makes it easier for you to follow your subject when needed, without raising their suspicions or creating a risky traffic situation.

Pre-Surveillance Scene Check

Instead of waiting until the day of your surveillance, take a ride through the neighborhood on the day before, or use an online mapping service. Many internet maps offer a street or satellite view of where you plan to park and observe your subject’s actions. This enables you to avoid blowing your cover by having to search for a parking spot or discovering there isn’t a convenient location where you can observe them.  

Start Surveillance to Meet the Needs of the Investigation

The early bird gets the worm, and this is true when picking a start time for your surveillance. People like routine, but things come up unexpectedly and you might miss your opportunity for observation because your target had a special meeting or work to get to by 8 a.m. That means you should be ready to start early and have your equipment prepared. Conversely, know what you are looking for and what your client needs.  If you are investigating on a younger individual, you might want to schedule surveillance in the evening to determine post work activities. As opposed to surveillance on someone elderly, they are typically early risers.

Think About Positioning

Know your surroundings when you select a spot to park your vehicle. Your goal is to blend in and not attract attention, so it’s essential to park someplace that doesn’t conflict with aspects of the neighborhood. Use caution when sitting in areas that have a high amount of pedestrian traffic because you don’t want them to notice you using a camera to take photos. You want the cover of other vehicles or trees around you, some distance between you and your target, and to be in a position that lets you exit the area quickly.

Minimize Breaks or Avoid Them

When on a surveillance trip, know that you will spend an entire day inside your car. Come prepared with snacks and drinks in a mini-cooler and choose foods that give you energy. Meals shouldn’t divert your attention away from your subject. If you need to use a restroom, you’ll risk garnering unwanted attention or missing out on important activity by your target. There are many original products online that will get you relieved without having to exit your vehicle.

Avoid Distractions

In the movies, we see Private Investigators depicted as bored, killing time by reading a book or listening to the radio when suddenly their target makes a quick move and everything gets exciting. The reality is if you have your nose buried in the latest bestseller or game app on your phone, you could miss something critical for your case. Avoid distractions at all costs and take notes on what’s happening around the neighborhood and home that’s under surveillance. If you must check your phone, limit it to under ten seconds, since people can’t drive away in less time than that.

Keep a Steady Camera

Photos and videos are vital sources of evidence for many Private Investigators, but the quality is critical, too. Holding the camera steady with a dash-mounted tripod will prevent shaking and blurry refocusing. If you can afford it, try to get a high-definition camera that will capture every detail in the best quality possible.

Tailing Your Subject

Sometimes you’ll need to follow a subject to other locations or just observe where they frequent to establish a routine. Either way, try to remember the unique features of their vehicle, so you don’t lose them in heavy traffic.

Safety is also a critical component when tailing your subject. This is tricky at times because you don’t want to lose them or have them notice you. At the end of the day, though, safety comes first, and you should consider the safety of yourself, your target, and bystanders when you’re following someone.

Write Your Report Professionally

Investigations require a lot of report writing that will possibly get submitted as evidence for a court case or get reviewed by your client’s lawyer. No matter who ends up seeing your report, you need to write in a way that’s to the point and free of grammatical mistakes. Leave personal opinions and assumptions out of it to avoid having to clarify what you wrote.

Further Your Investigative Training

Whether you’re new to the field of private investigating or a seasoned veteran looking to sharpen your surveillance skills, furthering your investigative training can help. Modern technology has changed the way many Private Investigators conduct their stakeouts, and if you’re not familiar with these innovations, taking a course to learn more is a smart investment.

National Investigative Training Academy, Inc. (NITA) helps our students learn about the latest tools and technologies available for today’s Private Investigators. We offer courses in a convenient online format that are State-and-Board approved. Our Investigative Training courses teach you about the essential skills needed to conduct surveillance, write reports, and more. Find out about advancing your professional development by contacting the NITA at 1-800-730-NITA or completing our contact form.

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