Conducting Covert Surveillance Operations

Contributed by Samantha Castillo

Occasionally, we all find ourselves in a position where we realize that we are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Learning to analyze your social situation and make a determination on how to improve your position or to terminate your follow can be difficult. Getting close up, delicately filmed footage is a gold mine for clients, and should be treated with caution as if you were actually mining gold. More precisely, try to conduct bold moves with a quick reconvene.

In my experience, some of the most important factors that I consider on a regular basis when conducting covert surveillance are: location, demographic and time. Unlike a follow conducted while mobile, you are limited to me, myself and I. Upon exiting your vehicle, you lose your cover, expose your appearance and limit the amount of surveillance gear that you have readily available to you (being a female purse carrier is an advantage here). Most importantly, you lose your ability to move quickly.covert surveillance

Location can be used to your advantage or it can completely snub your chances of following a subject on foot. For example, large grocery stores, department stores, restaurants and public buildings often present with multiple vantage points and room to follow at a safe distance. Other locations such as lawyer’s offices and doctor’s offices are difficult because of close proximity and your need to be present. If you walk into a dentist’s office and don’t check in, take a seat and look directly at your subject the whole time…you may be made.

Depending on the geographic location or type of location that your case presents with, the demographic of that location can thwart any entry. Here is an example. I recently followed a subject into a grocery store, upon entering the store I quickly realized that I was the only woman not wearing a hijab and not pushing a cart; I quickly acted like I was looking for a specific item, and bolted as if they did not have what I needed. Large cities with a vast amount of culture and suburbs are going to have their individual challenges. Particular establishments will have a challenge as well, i.e. as a woman I am not going to march into a VFW hall during happy hour! A quick read of the neighborhood you are in, can help you determine if you can blend into the demographic or if you should halt following.

They truly mean it when they say, “time is of the essence”. Many covert follows are not possible when you have a few minutes or less to obtain footage. Take the example of a gas station. Most people patronize a gas station for 2-3 minutes. This does not leave ample time to park your vehicle, enter the building and record and return to your vehicle. You run the risk of your subject reaching their vehicle before you. That identical risk need not be taken for any situation. Always let time be on your side.

Those three factors, location, demographic and time may not be totally inclusive of everything it takes to conduct solid covert surveillance, but they are what I have found as a basis for protecting the integrity of my cases. Safety, morality and results should also be at the forefront of your mind while in the field.


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