|By Jody Ball
"When a surveillance
is conducted, use a vehicle which is inconspicuous. Flashy cars in loud
colors draw attention. Try to blend into the area. Use a different vehicle
from time to time. Consider having the vehicle's windows tinted. This is
a great help in avoiding being recognized or being detected while using
a video camera."
The most expensive and time consuming activity
of the private investigator will be that of surveillance. However, videotaped
surveillance can be some of the most convincing evidence. If your surveillance
will involve videotaping, be sure the taping is done by a competent person.
He must be reputable,skillful and aware of the limitations of this activity.
He may be called to testify in court in regard to the surveillance and
what steps were taken in obtaining the video. Improperly conducted surveillance
can result in tort liability.
The investigator conducting the surveillance
must be careful to avoid harassing the subject of the surveillance. He
must not invade the subject's privacy, cause the subject to feel threatened,
or cause a disruption to his life.
The details of a surveillance must be carefully
recorded concerning all persons and vehicles involved. This record should
also include information concerning the types of camera, video recorders,
and film used.
If the methods used during a surveillance
are questionable and intrusive, this could mean that the effort and expense
of obtaining the evidence are useless and a deterrent to the investigation.
A surveillance should be well planned.
A surveillance that is too short may result in missing key evidence, one
that is too lengthy may result in the investigator being observed. Either
case means wasted time and funds of the client.
Surveillance is usually conducted for 2
to 4 hours. Any longer surveillance must be at the direct request of the
client who is made aware of the expense involved beforehand. Avoid continual
surveillance if at all possible. You will be spotted by someone.
If hours of videotaping are involved, this
may necessitate editing. No one is going to sit and watch hours of a vehicle
that sets unoccupied in a driveway, etc. However, if you do edit the film,
maintain the entire original videotape and all photographs to avoid the
accusation of biased editing. Always avoid sound on videotapes which can
include unintended or unprofessional remarks.
Surveillance requires patience and a willingness
to experience the discomfort of sitting in a vehicle for a prolonged period
of time. A second person is helpful to have along should you need to go
to a restroom or go for something to eat or drink. You should consider
taking snacks and drinks with you as well as checking out the nearest facilities
of convenience. Wear comfortable clothing and avoid drinking too much liquid.
It goes without saying that you would not consume alcohol during a surveillance
or at any other time during the course of an investigation.
You may wish to invest in a cellular phone.
This is a valuable piece of equipment to an investigator on surveillance.
The cellular phone eliminates the need to leave the site of the surveillance
to make phone calls while allowing you to stay in touch with your office.
Before a surveillance is to take place,
you should attempt to obtain a photograph or at least a description of
the person or the vehicle you are to observe. Make sure the subject is
going to be in town. The description of a vehicle should include the license
plate number, if possible.
When a surveillance is conducted, use a
vehicle which is inconspicuous. Flashy cars in loud colors draw attention.
Try to blend into the area. Use a different vehicle from time to time.
Consider having the vehicle's windows tinted. This is a great help in avoiding
being recognized or being detected while using a video camera.
In addition to avoiding loud colors, you
should also avoid loud mufflers. Your exhaust system should be in perfect
condition. You can easily be asphyxiated sitting in an enclosed car with
a leaky exhaust system. You can also become quite uncomfortable in cars
without working heaters or air conditioners during extreme hot or cold
Make sure your vehicle is mechanically
sound and dependable. You may want to pretend to have car trouble as a
reason for being on the side of the road, but you don't want to be stuck
there if the need to follow the subject should arise. Consider also that
a car with visible damage on the exterior will be noticeable. There are
magnetic signs to make it appear that you are in some type of business.
However, if these signs are used day after day, they will become more of
an attraction than a disguise.
Along with a good camera, you will want
to invest in a good distance lens. You will not get many close-up shots
of your target. Cameras can be disguised in purses or briefcases, or simply
hidden behind a newspaper with a hole torn in front of the lens.
Make sure you are familiar with the area
where you are to conduct surveillance. If this is not possible, carry a
city map with you to avoid becoming hopelessly lost in a neighborhood and
drawing attention to yourself by endless circling. Do not ask directions
to a particular address. You may be talking to the subject's neighbor or
best friend who will promptly relate your inquiry to your target.
If you are approached by the police while
on surveillance, it is best to tell the truth of why you are there and
end your surveillance at that time. It is much better to become adept at
being inconspicuous than at lying. It is not against the law to conduct
a surveillance that adheres to legal guidelines. It is not likely that
you will be arrested. However, if you are trespassing on private property
or causing concern by your presence, you need to find another site. Do
not argue with the officer, you will attract attention to yourself and
you could go to jail.
Surveillance must be conducted in public
and surveillance at night is to be avoided. There is to be no intrusive
surveillance on the property of the subject. This is trespassing and is
against the law. There must not be any form of entrapment used, such as
causing a flat tire to see if the subject will come out to fix it. Do not
break out anyone's taillight to make it easier to tail his car. This is
movie P.I. stuff. Avoid personal contact or communication with the target.
Obey all laws. Do not feel justified in
speeding to follow a vehicle. If you lose your subject, you can pick him
up another time. An investigator is never justified in crossing the line
of legality in his pursuit of evidence.
When a surveillance is conducted, a person
will usually claim they were harassed and their privacy invaded. Make certain
that any surveillance is done within legal guidelines and reasonable techniques
were used. The courts have found it to be reasonable to follow a vehicle
on public streets during daylight hours, observing activities from a parked
car, and videotaping a person who engages in activities on his property
that is visible to persons passing by.
Not every surveillance will be successful,
you will make mistakes, everyone does. But, you can learn from your mistakes
and gain valuable experience from the assignment. Remember the things that
worked for you and those that didn't. The two most important things you
can do is to make detailed records and obtain photographs when possible.
Discuss each surveillance with your other
employees. Exchanging ideas can lead to new approaches and fewer mistakes
in your next surveillance. It can also help train others in conducting