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Surveillance Explained

The distorted portrayal of private detectives and undercover police officers performing surveillance on television and in the movies can often give viewers a very slanted perspective of this line of work. The actors in these shows are often depicted observing the bad guys doing evil deeds with extreme speed and relative ease, and are rarely shown drawing any unwanted attention to themselves. Further, they almost always catch the person “in the act” every time and you will rarely see one of these Hollywood professionals being stared at by a passerby or neighbor, or being stopped and questioned by the police. And how is it that they can follow a person’s vehicle for hours by remaining only inches from that person’s car without ever being noticed?

Unfortunately, these portrayals make this type of work look very simple and the people who perform it, simple minded. The truth is, there is rarely anything speedy, easy or simple about it. Cases requiring surveillance take careful planning and time, not-to-mention trained personnel, each possessing a great deal of unobtrusiveness, patience and finesse. In the following paragraphs we address and attempt to dispel for you a few of the most Common Misconceptions Of Surveillance.

The first common misconception pertains to what is termed Stationary Surveillance. Stationary Surveillance is the act of surveillance performed by a single investigator who sits and watches a particular subject, vehicle, residence or building. Unlike what can often be viewed on the big screen, operatives that perform such work and the vehicles that they use to transport themselves in, are not invisible. These individuals often must sit for hours upon hours before anything ever happens and a fair percentage of locations cannot be watched directly by one person without that person being too close and very obvious to the target subject.

This means that the investigator often has to park some distance away from the location he/she is attempting to monitor. In doing so, the investigator will often be noticed by unrelated subjects living or walking about in the area. In recent years, members of society have grown a great deal more aware of their personal surroundings, especially when in their own neighborhoods. They can be quick to notice any unfamiliar or suspicious persons or vehicles. This is most likely a result of the sharp rise in awareness surrounding crimes against our country, our property and children, as well as the aggressive promotion of neighborhood watch programs by police.

Thus, the reality of this situation is that an unfamiliar vehicle or subject sitting in a vehicle on a residential street will rarely go unnoticed these days. In the real world, neighbors routinely notice investigators, sometimes approach them and occasionally contact the police. This means that in most cases, both the frequency and the duration of Stationary Surveillance needs to be closely monitored, particularly when the surveillance is being performed in the target subject’s own neighborhood.

Another common misconception regarding surveillance is related to a case’s duration, or the time it takes to solve it. Another is the notion that investigations are always solved quickly, or as some television producers would have you believe, in less than an hour, leaving just enough time for a few commercial breaks and the production credits.

The truth is, even the simplest of cases can require many separate occasions of investigation. These occasions are usually spread out over a period of several weeks and occasionally even months. Investigations are like jigsaw puzzles with the many small portions of surveillance representing the individual pieces that fit together to form the entire picture. Each of these portions will usually reveal only a tiny bit of information about the subject’s activities. Just as with putting a jigsaw puzzle together, the nearer you get to the end of the puzzle, the more clearly the picture begins to reveal itself and you can then quickly guess where the last few pieces should go. In an investigation, once many of the missing pieces of information are put into place, we can often see what the rest of the picture should look like. It is usually only after several periods of surveillance that we are able to learn enough about the person’s actions and patterns to enable us to successfully solve the case. Investigators who attempt to solve a case in a day or who blanket a target subject with surveillance will often run the risk of getting caught by their target and therefore wasting their client’s money.

Finally, one of the most common and perhaps greatest misconceptions surrounding surveillance deals with the Art of Tailing. Tailing is following someone without their knowledge for the purpose of learning something and/or documenting their activities. Again, unlike what is often seen in today’s films, tailing is extremely difficult, very stressful to the operative and can sometimes become dangerous.

It is especially difficult to tail someone in a downtown metropolitan area such as Minneapolis, MN, where sudden changes in road conditions, construction and a ton of traffic congestion can make tailing even the most courteous or unaware driver, nearly impossible. Successful tailing requires that an investigator maintain a fine balance between being too aggressive, thus being detected by the target subject, and being too passive and losing the tail altogether.

For these reasons, effective tailing often requires the use of multiple investigators in separate vehicles. These investigators are in constant contact with one another by two-way radio and work together as a team to keep their eyes on the target subject and on the road ahead. Even still, letting the wrong driver’s car get between you and the target subject’s vehicle can turn a long-awaited opportunity to solve a case into a big waste of time in an instant. This is because the car you have just let in decided to stop for a yellow traffic light and the only thing you can do is stop behind him and watch as your target subject drives off out of view and into the sunset.

As we have just outlined for you, performing stationary surveillance can be very tedious and painstaking work that is often interrupted by protective neighbors and the police. Most cases take several occasions of surveillance to solve, which can be stretched out over a period of weeks if not months. And tailing someone without their knowledge is a very difficult and stressful task, one that can often result in the loss of the subject, requiring investigators to come back another day. But now that we have covered the common misconceptions, you should have a clearer understanding of some of the benefits of hiring professionals to perform this truly difficult, complicated and very sensitive type of work for you.

This article was submitted by Kenneth P. D'Angelo, President of Target Investigations, Inc in Gaithersburg, MD.

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