#27: How to Deal with Surveillance Pressures while being Safe. Surveillance Techniques to be Successful

Private Investigators encounter a variety of issues during surveillance.  Many of the obstacles that take place during a day of surveillance are out of the investigator’s control. The pressures to perform and to obtain results increases more and more with the growth of the private investigation industry and as more competitors enter the market.  Agency owners feel as if they can never lose a subject during surveillance and investigators feel as if they may lose their job if they lose too many subjects.  This article covers some issues you may encounter as a private investigation business owner or a private investigator working for an investigative agency, as well as possible solutions to those issues.

Losing your Subject during Surveillance

If you are conducting surveillance you are going lose your fair share of individuals during mobile surveillance.  Over the years I have lost claimants due to the following reasons:

1.)    Subjects traveling in the carpool lane

2.)    Heavy traffic conditions in the city

3.)   Subjects traveling at a high rate of speed

4.)    Stop lights

If you conduct a fair amount of surveillance, then I am sure you could add a dozen more issues you encounter which may cause you to lose the individual you are following.  Many times it is a combination of issues that keep you from staying with your subject.  Surveillance is a tough way to make a living, but the better you become at it, the more your clients will request services from your company.  If you are working for a private investigation agency you will be more likely to get an assignment over a co-worker because your efforts provide a quality product for their clients.  

If you are a private investigator working for an agency it is difficult to justify a ticket in the excess of $200 for a car pool violation.

Losing Subjects Due to the Car Pool Lane

If you are a private investigator working for an agency it is difficult to justify a ticket in the excess of $200 for a carpool violation.  You can be sure that the company you are working for is not going to pay the cost of that ticket for you nor is the client.  When you receive any kind of ticket while working surveillance it can almost feel as if you have worked the entire day for free if the price of the ticket is large enough.

What I Personally Do

If my claimant is in a carpool lane I will in most cases jump into the carpool lane just long enough to keep pace with them and then jump back into the fast lane.  If there are patrols in the area, I won’t chance it and will do my best to follow the individual without the use of the carpool lane. I don’t want a ticket.  

Other Solutions

There are some areas in the United States where you can purchase a pass (for specific freeways) that allows single drivers to travel in carpool lanes for a fee.  In the state of Washington, they have what is called a Fast Pass.  On designated freeways the fast pass allows drivers to travel in carpool lanes for a price.  If the individual you are following shows a pattern of leaving at the same time it might worthwhile to get another investigator in the car with you so that you can follow them to their destination.   Once you follow the subject to their location you will no longer need to worry about losing subject in the future as you will know their destination.

Private Investigator Surveillance


Heavy Traffic Conditions in the City

I began my private investigation career in California. Many surveillance cases I worked were in San Francisco, Oakland, and the Los Angeles area.  These areas are brutal for traffic.  It only takes one vehicle to allow other vehicles in between you and your subject and before too long you lose sight of your individual.  You are forced to drive in an aggressive manner or break some traffic law to stay in visual contact with your subject.  Driving in this manner can hurt you or others around you. Is risking your safety or the safety of others worth doing something like this?  No client or investigation manager will typically ever tell you to do something illegal.  But you as an investigator will feel compelled in your career to do something unsafe to avoid losing your subject.  You will feel this way because you don’t want to disappoint your client, you do not want to hear a disappointing talk from your manager or you can’t afford financially to miss out on the billable hours.

What I Personally Do

Many years ago I came to a point in my surveillance career where I determined that there is no better way to safely follow a subject than to be directly behind them while in a busy city like San Francisco.  With a large number of vehicles and traffic in cities like San Francisco, you are likely to blend in and never be noticed.  If you are noticed and “burnt”, then you were likely burnt long before you began following your subject.  In most cases, I believe staying directly behind your subject in busy city conditions will keep you from making dangerous or unsafe decisions during mobile surveillance.

Other Solutions

If you’re concerned about being burnt by your subject by staying directly behind them in busy cities you can always conduct a two investigator surveillance.  This will allow you to potentially allow for each investigator to spend time directly behind the subject without being noticed by the subject.  During this time of surveillance, it is recommended that constant contact is maintained between both investigators. It is also recommended that one investigator be the leader of the surveillance effort.



Your subject is driving at a high rate of speed

So you are driving in town or on the freeway and the person you are following is driving much faster than the posted speed limit.  What do you do?  Do you risk a ticket, an accident, or injuring someone while trying to stay with your subject?  Safety should be your number one priority at all times during a surveillance.  If your client or manager insists you break the law to stay with your subjects then you should explain to them the reasons why you will not break the law.  Not only will you be stuck with a ticket, and have higher insurance rates, you could potentially hurt someone unintentionally.  If that does not work you may need to find another company to work for and be prepared to lose your client.

What I personally do

Speeding is a tough topic because if you are playing catch up or following a subject that has a lead foot I have to evaluate what is safe for me to do in an instant.  I personally am willing to travel slightly over the speed limit as long as it does not risk the safety of others.  Weather conditions can greatly affect whether I travel any amount of the speed limit. In the northwest, we get some pretty crazy rain which really affects the road conditions.  In nasty conditions like that, I drive at a speed that is safe regardless of the speed that my subject is traveling at.   In most cases, I manage to keep some sort of view of my subject despite the speed I am traveling.

Other Solutions

You decide to pick and choose the moments you speed to catch your subject. Whatever you decide, be safe.  I do not recommend anyone to break the law or be unsafe during mobile surveillance.  I hate to repeat myself but your safety or the safety of others is not worth keeping up with your subject.

Stop Lights

Finally, we have reached the last obstacle on this list.  Let’s face it, each one of the aforementioned issues essentially puts you in a position where a stoplight stand in between you and your subject as they continue to make every green light in front of you.  Fear not, there some potential answers to this problem which can be done safely and legally.

What I do

If I am at the traffic light and I have no one in front of me (depending on the layout of the area) I may take a right turn and then a quick left turn into a business parking area and the travel out to the road again while not having to wait for the light. From that point, I would be able to miss the intersection altogether.   For a better understanding of the technique watch the video below.

I also place myself closer to the subject when I know traffic signals are approaching.  This gives me a much better opportunity to make it through the light with them.  When I know an area is free from signals I will create more space between me and the subject.

Other Solutions

Most other solutions involve an illegal technique that involves unsafe driving.  Be safe.  Sometimes it just comes down to your subject being stuck at a light in front of you for you to catch up to them.


There will be daily pressures as a private investigator and even more with surveillance.  Every day the amount of hours you work depends on variables in and out of your control.  Don’t beat yourself up if you lose your subject.  Learn from every experience and moment when conducting surveillance.  Many times clients and managers will have unreasonable expectations. I know this because I have worked for managers and I have been a manager for a nationwide investigation company.

The best thing you can do is to place yourself in the best possible position during mobile surveillance.  More times than not things will happen in your favor, and you will not have to do anything unsafe or illegal.  Don’t let pressures get the best of you and push you into making a mistake that you will regret.


  1. Andrew excellent article, I am impressed how you emphasize several times in you article the most important agenda at all times is the safety of the surveillance investigator. Having worked as an LE before my PI life I was involved in numerous surveillance’s. During these surveillance’s I have observed the surveillance investigators preform illegal traffic violations in an attempt to keep the subject in view. I have even seen P.I’s doing this now. All it will take is the one time and you will lose all that you have worked for over the years. One added thing I do to prepare for the surveillance is a background on the person and their habits. Is this someone that attends a gym on a regular basis, beauty salon, what grocery store, or convenience store do they frequent. Do they attend church, coffee with the guys, I once was doing an injury surveillance on a guy that loved motorcycles. Claimed he couldn’t ride his bike due to an injury while working. I lost him in traffic. I knew that there was a Harley Davidson store within a mile of the area I lost him. I went to the Harley shop and there he was.

    • You are right Stuart a preliminary investigation is very helpful. It’s always good to be prepared with any extra information like habits and hobbies. Sometimes what appears to be insignificant information ends up being the information that helps you locate your subject again. Thanks for commenting and sharing your insights.

  2. Harassed by PIs in Georgia

    I have multiple PIs following me everywhere I go, and this has been going on since at least June 24th when I discovered it, and it’s now November. They break every law in the book including reckless driving and trying to run me off the road. They even entered private property to harass me. They are either private detectives hired by Travelers Insurance or they are in-house PIs. Either way, Travelers is responsible for their ineptness.

    • I am sorry that this is happening to you. Either the private investigator does not care that you know (which is harassment, stalking and maybe even intimidation), or aren’t good enough to know that they have been caught. If you feel as if you are being followed call the police immediately and have them check out the vehicle. If they are private investigators they will leave the area and likely not return. Though you are likely right (a private investigator is following you), in reality it could be anyone following you.

      Be safe