I am a part-time private investigator and have been for several years. A great deal of what I do involves surveillance from my vehicle. The cases I generally work involve worker’s comp claims and infidelity issues.Concerning the worker’s comp, there is rarely a case where I don’t find someone committing fraud. I just worked a case where a young man went out with a back injury after 4 days on the job. On the 2nd day of surveillance, I found him skateboarding.
I would like to share 10 surveillance/investigation techniques that I picked up along the way and from other private investigators.
1) Mini-vans are best for surveillance. Get tinted glass so you can sit in the back, virtually unnoticed, most anywhere. I like the older mini-vans, like the Dodge Caravans, as they are more nimble and blend in better (they’re everywhere) than the newer ones. Once you’ve worked out of a van you’ll never go back to a car.
2) Stay on the vehicle’s bumper when tailing in the city, and allow a car between you as a buffer in slower areas. There are many stoplights, stop signs and traffic in the city making it easy lose the tail, so you really need to stay close.
3) Lack of dew on a vehicle during morning hours could indicate it was moved sometime that night.
4) Verify address by looking at the mailbox for a name or peeking at the mail if it’s sticking out, dicreetly of course.
5) Determine whether a residence is a single or multi-family home by counting # of electric meters.
6) While tailing someone, you notice the person stopping i.e. in front of a house; you (as cover) continue past, turn into an empty driveway as if you belong there. Don’t lose sight of person.
7) Take detailed notes via pen & paper or voice recorder. Write date/times, make & plate of any vehicles there, any vehicle movement, anyone showing up, etc. Good notes are crucial for yourself and for the report you give to the client. You, as a private investigator, may be asked to testify so accuracy is critical. Voice recorders are invaluable for this purpose.
8) Accurately estimating the height of an individual can be difficult (that’s why those height charts are on doors of convenience stores). You can get a good idea by comparing the individual’s height to that of any vehicle that they get into or out of. This will become easier with practice.
9) When running video, there will be lots of stop starting of the camera – create definite borders between clips by placing hand over camera at the end of each segment. Make sure a time & date stamp appears on tape (setting on camera). Always obtain a panoramic video shot of location and vehicle for video verification that the person was there.
10) Stake-outs can run several hours and occur in non-optimal situations i.e. no convenience store nearby, so keep a roll of toilet paper and an empty plastic jug of some type in your vehicle at all times.
Surveillance involves hours of nothing followed by minutes or even seconds of intense excitement. Make those small parcels of excitement pay off well by following proper investigative techniques.