Surveillance is one of the most important services that a private investigator performs. In my experience, surveillance is one of the best ways to the get information that the client needs. Surveillance is a highly rewarding process if done correctly. Every private investigator has their own style and methodology. Listed below are some of the things that have made my surveillance missions have great success.
When you first speak with a client, it’s important to get all of the information you can so that you can have a successful outcome. Investigators often don’t ask enough questions. To be successful on surveillance, an investigator has to ask the client many questions, even difficult questions. Clients tend to give the minimum amount of information to the private investigator.
Pro Tip: If your client can, ask him/her to snap a quick pic of the target the same day as surveillance. This will help you identify clothing and hairstyle, especially if you are picking your subject out of a crowd. If you are following your target from the airport, ask them how many bags of luggage the target took. This will help you determine if the target will get delayed at baggage, which is a great way to funnel the target to his pickup point. Fill out the details during the initial interview. Likewise, ask about doctor appointments, marital status, hobbies and the number of children the subject has.
2. Surveillance Vehicle
Having a working and surveillance ready vehicle is paramount to a good surveillance investigation. There are many vehicles that a private investigator can use. Color and shape of the vehicle are key. A private investigator’s vehicle must blend in with traffic. Choose a dull color and shape that could be considered ‘every man’s car.’ If you go out on surveillance with a bright red hot rod, your chances of getting made have just gone up. Also, having good window tint is paramount. When someone hires a private eye, the client expects results. Having a good surveillance vehicle increases the chances of those results.
3. Check The Scene Beforehand
Prior to the first surveillance, a PI will either check the street set up on satellite imagery (Google Maps/Earth) and/or drive around the subject’s neighborhood. This is important to mission success!
4. Starting Time
Pro Tip: I’m always early. A private detective should always be early to surveillance. I can’t tell you how many times a client protested to me being early, but it ended up saving the case. If the client tells you that your target is leaving the house at 9 am, be there at 8:15. You never know, your target just might decide to leave early.
Once on scene, a private detective only has several chances to get the set-up right. When on the scene, I like to ‘feel the vibe’ of the neighborhood. I can’t explain it, but each individual neighborhood and street have its own mood. On some streets, I feel like I could do cartwheels down the street and no one would care (I would never, though!). On other streets, I feel like the whole neighborhood is watching me. Once you feel the mood of your neighborhood, get set up in a spot that gives you distance, cover, and a good way out. Also, park in a place where the target is most likely going to leave. A private investigator does not want to do a U-turn to catch up with the target right out of the box if at all possible.
6. Meal/Restroom Breaks
Expect to spend the day in the car. Bring a cooler with refreshments. Apples give as much energy as a cup of coffee. But make your meals quick and easy to reach. Bathroom breaks aren’t possible. I won’t mention in this blog how a private investigator takes care of business – if you use your imagination long enough I am confident that you can figure it out 🙂
7. Leave Books At Home and Beware of the Cellphone!
You will miss something important unless you are vigilant. A private detective spends the quiet times running through surveillance scenarios in his/her mind, and examining exit routes. Everyone has a cellphone. It’s a fact of life private investigators check their cellphones. I like to employ the 10-second rule. As I check, I count to ten in my mind and look up. If a private detective follows the 10-second rule, it’s almost guaranteed that they will not lose their target when they leave.
8. Steady Hands Win Out
When a video is necessary, be sure you can hold the camera steady. Your client may not appreciate feeling as though he or she is on a rolling ship when reviewing the scenes. PI services require professional equipment to provide amazing video. I also recommend using Sony camcorders with night shot. At BrightStar Investigations, we try to only use cameras that employ 1080p and 720p high definition. Our client’s feel like they are watching a movie, and if requested, we can use 4K as well.
9. Following In Traffic
A private investigator is ready at a moment’s notice for tailing. When starting a follow, I memorize the tail lights and any distinguishing features; especially at night. Look for bumper stickers, body damage, brake light shapes, anything unique so you can easily spot it. You want to avoid tailgating, but still be close enough to catch the traffic lights with your subject. Traffic follows can be tricky. At BrightStar Investigations, we have three surveillance rules:
- Safety of the Investigator
- Safety of the people around us
- Safety of the person we are following- In fact, as the owner and Executive Investigator, I feel a special obligation to ensure that the subject is safe, never feels distressed, and never knows we are there!
10. Professional Report Writing
Report writing must be clean, precise, and court ready. A private detective must use language that can be read in a court of law. I cannot stress this enough: When conducting a surveillance investigation, or any investigation, a Private Eye must treat the investigation as though it were going to court!
At some point in almost everyone’s life, people need the services of a private detective. If you need answers, BrightStar Investigations is here. You can hire BrightStar Investigations priv