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Surveillance—Consumers Should Know This

The video above is many years old, but none the less, still relevant today.

Investigators will not be precise when it comes to the topic of vehicular surveillance. Vehicular surveillance is following another person with the use of a car. We aim to dispel the myths and provide consumers with an honest understanding of mobile and crewless surveillance operations so that you may make an informed choice on whether you should hire a private investigator to watch someone.

Consumers should know that surveillance is the act of placing another person or location under observation. A lack of clarity is an issue for a variety of reasons. Private investigators may surveil a person for an insurance company or a domestic problem. Law enforcement may build cases by conducting surveillance on criminals involved in various illegal activities.

Surveillance - What You Need to Understand


Surveillance performed from automobiles is the most common surveillance platform for private investigators. Because most people drive from point to point, motor vehicle surveillance is essential to many private investigations such as errant partners, child welfare and during work related incident investigations..

When the subject of investigation utilizes their automobile to go to work, school, social situations, and more, private investigators must use an automobile to keep track of the activities the subject is engaging in.


Unlike other forms of investigation, surveillance gives our client a fundamental understanding of a person's identity, characteristics, habits, whereabouts, associations, etc. Surveillance is the act of placing a person’s conduct under observation for any one of numerous lawful reasons.

Surveillance gives our clients a genuine understanding of the investigative subject's lifestyle and provides video or photographic documentation for review and decision making.

It helps to answer questions such as:

  • Is the claimant telling the truth about alleged injuries?

  • Is my partner being faithful, when I suspect they are not?

  • Is the parent of my child really providing for the welfare of my child during visittation?

  • Are employees taking liberties while working from home?

  • Are company associates really working while in the field?

  • Is my teenager abiding by my rules when I cannot be there to monitor them?

  • Is there cohabitation between my ex partner and their new partner - can this help my alimony case?

  • Is my ex partners new love interest good with my kids?

  • And dozens of other custom created solutions


Surveillance is very complicated and requires more than one investigator in more than one automobile when it is a mobile based private investigation.

Mobile private investigations are when the subject of investigation may be going from place-to-place.

An example of mobile surveillance may be when an injured claimant is going to the doctor, gym, taking employment or outdoor activitis.

Another example is during a child custody matter: wher the subject of investigation is taking the child to eat, to the park, visiting family and other activities that are common during child visitation times.

How about the errant husband or wife? Yes that too usually requires mobile surveillance. The subject of investigation may drive their car and park it in a parking lot. Then comes the other party who picks them up and then they are off to the races—so to speak.

Here are a few factors that make surveillance operations logistically challenging:

  • Traffic - It is the bane of a private investigator's existence. Traffic pops out of driveways as you approach a traffic light, and the subject goes right through it, not to mention many other difficulties with high traffic flow and city streets.

  • Not being made - Getting made or burned is when the subject recognizes surveillance. Getting burned happens when there is only one surveillance (follow) vehicle.

  • No backup - This is essential when conducting surveillance to get the best possible angles and documentation. Not having an additional surveillance vehicle means that one investigator has to manage too many environmental issues alone.

  • Subject drives aggressively - Another prevalent issue is the subject of investigation moving very fast or aggressively. Again, one vehicle attempting to do the same to keep surveillance on the subject only opens that one car up to be noticed, thus negatively impacting the field investigation.

How Surveillane Is Formed

When a person requires surveillance to better understand the integrity of another person, a surveillance investigation is initiated.

It starts with the private investigator understanding your reason for the inquiry.

Then the investigator will do pre-operational workup to understad the location(s) where the investigation will take place. Usually this requires us to look at Google Maps or some such mapping service.

When we look at maps we look at where the subject will be when we ”pick up the tail” (detective speak) or, in other words, begin the surveillance. What streets are possible for them to travel on? Is there more than one way out of a complex? Do they take freeways?

Then the investigator will determine where to “set up” the surveillance. Meaning, what is the best possible location in order to document the subject’s activities before or while they are leaving the start point.

The investigator is usually in a non-descript car (Honda civics are great for this) and sitting quietly while waiting for the subject to move or depart their current location.

Private investigators want to blend in. So they will park where they can see the subject residence or work, or the subjects motor vehicle. So in essence they could be two or three houses over parked somewhere in the street.

What Private Investigators Have To Be Careful Of

When forming their surveillance plan, you can never tell how things may go. A private investigation may be parked in front of a residence with a meticulous lawn and eagle eyed home owner. This person will likely come outside, rap on the window of the detective and make an inquiry and likely threaten to call the police.

Some private investigators make it a habit to check in with law enforcement dispatch once they arrive on location. The dispatcher will ask what agency they are with, their name, cell phone number and registration number of vehicle and whether the detective is carrying firearms. This does not guarantee that the private investigator won’t get lit up, but it works in most circumstances.

Private investigators also have to be careful they are not too far away from the subject’s departure point, especially in high traffic areas. Also, they must consider if they need to get film of the subject in their garage or mowing the lawn.

All reasons why a two plus person surveillance team is really needed to effectively cover all angles and contingencies.