As a private investigator, one of the most common things that you’ll be asked to do is to conduct surveillance work. When you start out doing private investigator surveillance work, it’s fair to say that this won’t be easy. The likelihood is that there are times when you’ll either lose the target, or the person you are following will catch on to what you are doing. The key thing is not to lose focus. Keep at it, and keep improving, and you’ll find a middle ground where you feel comfortable. In this module we’ll provide you with some top tips for improving your private investigator surveillance technique.
Private Investigator Surveillance Tips
Keep Your Distance
One of the biggest mistakes that many new private investigators make is that they get up far too close and personal with the subject! They’ll park right outside the person’s home, without any clue that this is making them far too conspicuous and obvious. People do look out the windows of their home, so if they see an unfamiliar car with an unfamiliar person just sitting there, they’ll get suspicious. Likewise, if something unexpected does happen – for example if a police officer is in the area and decides to question you on why you’re sitting in your car, you absolutely don’t want to the subject of the job to see this happen, as that will immediately draw their attention to you.
With the above in mind, it is advisable that you try and stay at least 4 to 5 houses down from the target. It’s absolutely fine if this puts the house out of view, just make sure that you can still see any people or cars leaving or entering the property from your vantage point! One top tip is to avoid directly parking outside a person’s house (not just the subject but any of their neighbours too). If you can park between houses, then this is less likely to raise suspicion, as most people will just put an unfamiliar car down to someone visiting their neighbours – and therefore won’t pay special attention.
When conducting surveillance work, route assessment is really important. Before you start the job, it’s important to assess the area in which you will be conducting the main body of your work. Learn the routes of departure, and the road through which the majority of people will be entering and leaving the premises. Google Maps is generally very useful for this. The more information you can get about where you’ll position yourself, and how close you can get to the property without being spotted, the better. The last thing you want to do is to turn up and just try and wing it – this is what leads to mistakes. You need to plan as much as possible.
This is something that most people will take into account anyway, but there’s still some basic rules to follow. Firstly, it is advised that you sit in the front seat! Although this might make you a little more visible, the bottom line is that you’ll be even more visible if you’re scrambling from the back seat to the front. When conducting private investigator surveillance work you need to ready to take immediate, fast action. Whenever your subject leaves the area, you need to follow, so sitting in the back seat won’t work! Ideally, you don’t want to spend too much time hanging around near the house that you are watching. If you can set up a camera then even better, as this is something you can refer back to later, and study.
You are your own worst enemy
Everyone falls victim to this, including private investigators. Your mind isn’t always reliable, and there’s inevitably a heightened sense of paranoia when it comes to conducting surveillance work. You’ll start to think that everybody has spotted you, and that you’ve been rumbled. You’ll begin to get ‘cabin fever’ sitting in your vehicle, waiting for something to happen. When worry sets in, it can be difficult to do your job properly. You might start behaving irrationally, impacting the job in the process, and making it more likely that you’ll give yourself away.
When this happens, it’s important not to get disheartened. There is a certain level of anxiety that comes with the job, and this is absolutely normal. Everyone has different techniques that they use to calm themselves down, whether it’s breathing exercises, meditation, or even squeezing a stress ball. Ideally you need to find an on-the-spot exercise which works for you, and then try and implement this when you feel as if things are going south. More often than not, they are absolutely fine, it’s just your mind playing tricks on you!
Learn From Experience
At the start you will probably make a lot of mistakes when it comes to private investigator surveillance work. It’s okay to make mistakes – just as long as you learn from them. Equally, it’s important to recognise and understand that not every single private investigator surveillance job is going to go the way you planned it.
There is a golden rule which states, ‘People are mostly predictable’, and to an extent, this is true. We live in patterns, follow a routine…except sometimes we don’t. Sometimes people do unexpected things and when you are conducting a surveillance job, it’s likely that you are going to encounter some of these. This means that there will always be things which are out of your control, which aren’t a result of your error. You can’t do anything about these, so don’t be too hard on yourself when they happen.
What you can do is to minimise your own errors. If you do make a mistake then think about why you made it, and what you can do better next time.