It is very common within the private investigation industry to refer to surveillance as part art and part science. Some even state the longer one does it he/she can become an alchemist and transform it from the science into the art at a highly developed level, well I modified that statement a little to get my point across. Surveillance art and its esoteric components will be addressed and surveillance science and its exoteric components will be addressed in the next article.
Surveillance can be defined as the continuous watching (overtly or covertly) of persons, vehicles, places or objects to obtain information concerning the activities and identities of individuals. To achieve the successful objective of obtaining information the operative whether law enforcement personnel or private investigator utilizes intuition, street savvy, equipment and pre surveillance information. Being a private investigator and former law enforcement officer gives me a perspective of how surveillance applies in both contexts. However, its applicability to the private investigation industry will be explored and emphasized.
The most important equipment a private investigator has available during the course of conducting surveillance is his mind and its esoteric components. The pre-surveillance information may have indicated that the insurance benefits claimant maybe working and leaves for work at 7:30 a.m., but if your intuition tells you the day of surveillance he will be leaving at 6:30 a.m. follow it and be on site one hour earlier. There is no tangible reconnaissance information for the earlier start, but a successful surveillance assignment is dependent on more than tangible components. You can have the best camcorder, digital camera, surveillance vehicle modified to be non descript, excellent pre surveillance data on subject, but the intuition of the investigator about where to set up for surveillance, when to back off when following a subject, is subject going to leave earlier, etc., becomes an innate attribute that develops with time if the investigator listens to that intuitive voice within that is your sixth sense getting information from sources beyond the normal. I was working a corporate case locally in New Jersey trying to acquire a positive ID on a subject for a client who had been scammed a significant amount of money through an elaborate fraud scheme. I stakeout the subject’s house for six hours with no activity, I made a call to his residence, I received his answering machine and there were no vehicles parked in the driveway or nearby. I had no idea of his schedule, but had a deep feeling he was home. This case was a one man surveillance restricted by the budgetary restraints of the client so I had to think on my feet. I approached the subject’s residence, parked my vehicle, positioned my camcorder through the passenger side door of vehicle, turned it on and proceeded to the front door of his residence. I knocked and moved to the left to allow the camcorder to capture the potential meeting. He opened the door and asked how he could help me. I stated that my car had broken down and I was waiting to be picked up and considered it prudent to notify the occupants of his residence because my vehicle would have to remain in front of his house until the following day, when I would return to retrieve it. He said okay, while everything was captured on videotape. I returned to my car and uploaded the video to my client who positively identified the subject and will be pursuing legal actions against him. How did I know he was at home? I had a hunch, a gut feeling, intuition.
Herein manifests the art of surveillance, the intangible component that cannot be learned from a book or course, but must be developed by the surveillance investigator out in the field doing his craft. The art is being able to think on your feet, trusting your intuition, adapting to the case requirements, using unorthodox methods if necessary, but staying within the parameters of the law. The more one develops in proficiency, it is poetry in motion, living in the moment transcending the actual surveillance and tapping into faculties that can be applied to all aspects of life.