Being prepared for just about anything is the name of the game when conducting surveillance. Different types of surveillance may require more preparation than other types, but regardless, there are many basic items that every investigator should have in their vehicle. In this article, I will share a private investigator equipment list for surveillance and the items I carry in my vehicle at all times.
Private Investigator Equipment List for Surveillance Investigators
When I began conducting surveillance almost 14 years ago I was fortunate to begin working for a company that provided laptop computers with a Microsoft Street and Trips mapping system. I would have my computer open while driving and I would follow the map on the computer. When GPS devices became moderately affordable I purchased one. Having a GPS device during surveillance provides me with several advantages. You can also use Google Maps on your phone should you not want to purchase a GPS device. Here is a link to Google Maps on Apple devices and Android devices.
- I don’t have to map out my route prior to the surveillance. I just type in the address and head out. (You still need to Google Earth the area during your preliminary investigation)
- I can see what streets are coming up when following a subject. This allows me to anticipate dead end roads and intersections in an unfamiliar area.
- I can quickly find canvassing points like stores, restaurants, and courthouses.
DC to AC Power Inverter
If you are not familiar with this it is a device that plugs into your cigarette lighter and allows you to plug in things like your laptop computer, cell phone, or anything else you need to charge with a traditional household plug. I used to purchase the inverters from Radio Shack. Radio Shacks inverters (for me) would either burn out, or my battery in my vehicle would die without notice. There is nothing like having your subject leave their home and finding out that your vehicle battery is dead. After going through several of the Radio Shack inverters over the years I came across a Black and Decker Inverter (Black and Decker PI400AB Inverter) that has lasted several years. I checked the reviews on Amazon for the inverter I use and the ratings were unexpectedly low. I, however, have not had any real issues with mine. I actually have been happy with the product as it has two outlets and a USB port.
Advice when using an Inverter
When charging big items like a laptop make sure your vehicle is running. An alarm will trigger when the vehicle is not running (at least on the Black and Decker). Charging smaller items like phones, video cameras, and other small electronic devices should not require the vehicle to be running. The fan on the inverter will really hum when you are charging your laptop.
During surveillance, you are going to need to be able to look far away quickly. Every private investigator should own a pair of binoculars. The only thing you need to determine is the size and power of your binoculars. I personally use a small less powerful binocular from Bushnell. The binoculars are very small and compact. I have considered a more powerful set but I need to do some more research before I purchase them.
Battery Jump Starter/Inverter/ Compressor
If you are asking yourself why you would need to have this in your car, I can confidently tell you that I have used this device more than I would like to admit. Surveillance vehicles wear down and fail at the worst moments even if you take care of your vehicle.
I have used the jump starter to jump my vehicle to make it to the closest auto parts store several times in my career. I have filled up a flat tire several times in the same surveillance as the individual traveled from location to location, and I have used the inverter portion of the device as a backup for when I had issues with the cigarette lighter. This is something that comes in handy to get you out of a bad situation.
The prices on these devices vary and they can be purchased at places Wal-Mart or Amazon. I am actually due to purchase another one myself. These devices average about $100.00 and up. They pay for themselves the first time you need it.
A Can of Fix a Flat
A can of Fix a Flat may help you get out of a jam. Fix a Flat from what I understand is designed to clog the leak in your tire for a short period of time until you can get the tire professionally fixed. I have heard however that this may ruin your tire but it will at least give you a chance to get to the nearest tire repair location. Never hurts to have it in your vehicle as a last resort.
Targus Digital TG-MP6710 67-Inch Camera/Camcorder Monopod
Steady documentation is very important to insurance related surveillance. Having a monopod allows you to quickly obtain steady video documentation of your subject. I still remember the times when I never used a monopod. I thought my documentation was steady until I went to court for a case and watched the video with a judge and attorneys present. What I thought was steady was really pretty shaky on a large television. I was embarrassed and disappointed and couldn’t wait for the video to be over.
Tri-Pods are great for documentation over an extended period of time. This is something that everyone should have at all times in their vehicle. I recommend the Mafrotto Compact Action tripod.
Video Camera/Charger/Backup battery
If you are going to be conducting surveillance you obviously need your video camera. Don’t assume you won’t need your charger. You never know what will happen during surveillance. It doesn’t hurt to have an additional battery for your camera.
If you are using a camera that uses 8mm tapes or Mini DV tapes it is probably time to move on to a digital camera that uses an SD memory card. Regardless of your camera, you will need to carry some extra tapes (if you still require them for your camera) or extra memory cards. Having extra memory cards of 8 GB or more will give you peace of mind if you are obtaining large amounts of video or if for some reason your memory card has a malfunction for some reason.
Backup or Secondary Video Camera
A second video camera is always nice to have in case your primary camera breaks or stops working for any reason. I actually have a mini DV camera as an emergency camera. This is only because I have not purchased a second digital camera just yet.
Yes, that means more than one covert camera. Covert cameras are much less reliable than your regular video camera. Having more than one will keep you from having to explain to your client why the important video was not obtained. I also carry additional micro SD card for my covert cameras because I never know when I will need an extra one.
I currently use a pen camera from Penrecorder Pro. Here is my review of this spy pen.
This is just something that you should have on hand…Just in case. I don’t think I need to elaborate on this.
Just something that is good to have on hand in the off chance that you need it. I like to have cash on me when the subject goes into a bar or restaurant. I can pay with cash and not have to wait for the waitress to bring me back my debit/credit card. Having a couple dollars in change for parking meters doesn’t hurt either.
An overnight bag with toiletries and at least one set of clothes and a jacket is the minimum you should have in your car. Having more than that is even better. I carry additional clothes for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that I change clothes if I follow subjects into several different stores to change my appearance. I also have a change of clothes in the off chance my subject travels out of town and my client request that I stay with the subject overnight. Instead of buying clothes every time I follow my subject for long distances I just have them on hand.
Additional Food and Water
Having additional dry snacks like crackers, chips etc.. are good things to have for backup food when your surveillance goes longer than you expected. I have worked a surveillance case expecting to only work 8 hours on that specific day and packed a lunch to get me through that day. The subject decides to be very active on that specific day and I end up working 15 hours. The backup snacks and water help me keep going until the surveillance ends and I can go and get a proper dinner.
Pee Bottle/Portable camping toilet
Any large bottle with a screw cap should be appropriate for men during surveillance. A Portable Camping Toilet for women should be more than enough. I knew a female investigator that drove a full-size van and would not think of getting a different type of vehicle because she wanted to use her Portable Camping Toilet.
Any size flashlight will be appropriate. I carry a small one I purchased at Home Depot.
A toolset to make minor repairs to your vehicle. My battery died on my way home from a case which was 2 hours away. I won’t get into all the details but I didn’t have the appropriate tools to remove my battery. Having a socket wrench set would have saved me money and time when changing out my battery
Window shades not only keep the sun out of your vehicle but keep light from entering your vehicle. This allows the tint on your windows to do their job and not allow people or your subject to see within your vehicle. Blocking the front window with window shades also keeps people from seeing you videotaping as they pass the front of your vehicle.
Everyone should have a computer with them in their vehicle despite being able to do most things on your phone. I use a Chromebook in the field because the of long-lasting battery and because it can do most of what a Windows laptop can do. It has its limitations but overall it gets the job done. Whether it be a Chromebook or another type of laptop, have it with your while you are in the field.
Use your Imagination
I have known other private investigators that have carried these items and other random items in their vehicle just to be prepared for anything. I have known investigators to carry fishing poles, folding chairs, and sports equipment (soccer ball, football, basketball). The main thing I am stressing to investigators everywhere is to be prepared for anything. Imagine explaining to your supervisor or client on how you were prepared for a situation that allowed you to obtain damaging video that saves a client millions of dollars on an insurance claim or how you were able to obtain video that proved infidelity. Or you can imagine how you weren’t prepared and you have to explain why you could not get that damaging video.
If you have any good suggestions that relate to this article feel free to add them in the comment section. And as always, thank you for reading.