#46: Should you be conducting surveillance from the front or back seat? The Pros and Cons of both.

I have probably mentioned either on the podcast, in my videos or in the blog that I am a front seat surveillance investigator (the majority of the time). There are several reasons why I became a front seat investigator but I will talk about that as I provide the pros and cons of each. I will say that I began my career sitting in the back seat of my Honda Civic when conducting surveillance. I only had the back three windows tinted which helped contribute to the reason I sat in the back seat. The back seat helped and hurt my surveillance cases just like the front seat did. Let’s get into the pros and cons of each.


Pros and cons of using the back seat of your vehicle during surveillance

Pros

In a tinted vehicle the back seat area is extremely dark. The investigator can obtain video through the front window without easily being seen.
• People will believe the vehicle is empty when looking through the front window (you might have to duck down a bit). When this happens neighbors are less likely to be concerned about your vehicle. SUV’s and mini vans are likely to work best when trying to conceal oneself.

Cons

• The back seat may be less comfortable. The larger the investigator the less comfortable it will likely be.
• The back seat of a small surveillance vehicle may be less effective when wanting to make the vehicle appear empty.
• Transitioning from the back of the vehicle to the front of the vehicle can be a daunting task when you need to follow a subject quickly. It always seems much easier to move to the back of the vehicle than to return to the front.
• If observed by your subject or neighbors when sitting in the back seat, it may be more difficult to justify your behavior.

Pros and Cons of sitting in the front seat of your vehicle.

Pros

• You are able to follow a subject at a moment’s.
• Pretexting or justifying your presence in a neighborhood is much more natural.
• There is typically much more leg room in the front seat which will be important for long days in your vehicle (which should be everyday).

Cons

• Sitting in the front seat may require you to use a window covering/shade. This can look very suspicious to neighbors.
• Neighbors can identify you in the vehicle if you don’t use a window shade.
• The closer you are to your front windows (assuming all windows are tinted except for the front window) the more likely your silhouette will be visible to someone attempting to look in your vehicle.
• It becomes more difficult if you have 15% tint or no tint at all on your driver and passenger windows. Many investigators don’t risk driver and passenger window tint because their state enforces their laws on tinted windows.

How I became a front seat surveillance investigator.



As previously stated I began my surveillance career at about 210 pounds 1 ½ years after getting out of the Army. I was in fairly decent shape at the time. Only in ideal situations did I sit in my front seat. Because I didn’t have tint on my front driver and passenger windows I typically was confronted by neighbors when I decided to sit in my front seat.

What I found is though the Honda Civic was a great surveillance vehicle that allowed me to blend into any neighborhood, I was literally growing out of the vehicle. Jumping front the back seat to the front seat became more difficult. My shoe string would get caught on something or I would get a cramp in my leg and then as a result I would not be able to jump to my front seat in a timely manner. And because of not being able to transition fast enough my subject would get to great a lead and I would lose them during mobile surveillance. The next thing I knew I was 240 pounds and a back seat position just was not an option for me anymore (at least not in the Honda Civic).

I saw many other investigators that were in much better shape lose too many claimants/subjects because they could not transition to the front seat fast enough.

After selling my Honda I began using a mid size SUV to conduct my surveillance. I had all the windows tinted with limo tint (5%). I began sitting in the front seat feeling confident that I was not being noticed in my vehicle. Following people became less of a chore because I was not fumbling around. I just started my vehicle and was on my way. I do notice that if I don’t use my window covering (which is hard to do sometimes) that it can affect my investigation in a negative way on occasion.

Inevitably it is your choice as to what type of position works for you within your car. I would pay special attention as to how many subjects you lose as a result of not being able to transition fast enough to the front seat. You may be doing your company and yourself a disservice. Where you establish a stationary surveillance position and the type of neighborhood you are in will all play a part in the success of a front surveillance position or a rear surveillance position.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this and I hope this helps you in your surveillance efforts. Be sure to say hi on the Facebook page.
Andrew

10 comments

  1. Great job of breaking down the pros and cons of front seat vs. back seat surveillance. Each individual case is unique and the investigator has to determine what the best setup will be. If timing is critical, I’m probably going to stay in the front driver’s seat. If concealability is more important, I’ll probably be in the back seat.
    In the summer time, I’ll even move to the front passenger side if it means sitting in the shady part of my car instead of having the sun beat down on me.
    I know of an investigative agency owner who makes his investigators sit in the back seat. I don’t agree with this because, again, it depends on the circumstances of the case. In general, though, investigators who are just starting their careers tend to like sitting in the backseat to avoid detection on a long day of stationary surveillance.

  2. It depends on the location and the surroundings, but many times sitting in the front passenger seat is a good compromise. People just assume you’re waiting on the driver to return.

    • I agree Larry. But I also think regardless of sitting in the passenger seat or the driver seat, you can only sit there for so long. Thanks comment Larry.

  3. Front seat surveillance, for me, is rare. I’ll do it if I know my subject is leaving soon (vehicle is running, ect) or if I’m in a large shopping centre parking lot or some rural sits. Otherwise, I’m in the back in order to avoid detection. When I did sit in the front, inevitably my subject would appear doing something extraordinary and I’d have to worry about which neighbour is watching me attempt to videotape. Thus, the video quality would suffer.

    Nothing makes a surveillance day longer than getting the old hairy eyeball from a neighbour all day…which eventually leads to the police showing up.

    • Thanks for commenting. If it works well for you Travis then there is no reason to stop what you are doing. I can sit in the front seat of one of my cars because I have limo tint all around. In my other vehicle I sit in the back because it is bigger and I have a lighter tint in the front. Again, thanks for taking the time to comment.

      Andrew

  4. If quality video is the objective of your surveillance,the front seat is for lazy investigators that don’t mind giving bad video to their clients. Unless you found a fluid tripod that sits in your lap, your video is second rate. I know you think you are steady Eddie, and your video is so good they call you the human tripod, well, it’s not. You are making the end user, your client, the judge, and anyone else that looks at it motion sick or thinking an earthquake is going on. I am a huge advocate of tripod at all times and my video has proved the point time and time again. trust me, go get a good tripod, NOT anything under $250, look for “fluid head”. If it’s plastic, it’s crap. Then shoot anything you went for more than 15 seconds and you will see a major difference. I see your point about transitioning but you just need to lose weight, get a bigger or different car , or hand the keys over to someone that still has the motivation to make every shot look good. In my opinion anyway.

    • I respectfully disagree Michael. Not all surveillance efforts need to be from the back seat. In fact more investigators lose claimant’s or subjects because the sit in the back seat.

      There is no reason to sit in the back seat of your vehicle on the route of departure. You gain nothing from that. And when you person drives by you out of nowhere there is a good chance you will never have a chance at catching up to them.

      There are situations where sitting in the back seat is a good idea. But I am likely sitting in the front seat more times than not.

      It’s not a lazy thing, it is a situation thing.

      As for a tripod, I don’t think it is needed unless you are stationary for an extended period of time. A mono pod is quite appropriate to get quick steady video.

      And not every shot is going to be perfect. If you spend more time on getting set up with your tripod then you are likely missing claimant activity. I need to be able to get video of subjects entering and exiting their vehicle and most of the time those situations don’t require me to get in the back of my vehicle and try to situate my tripod. A mono pod moves around quickly and gets the job done.

      Thanks for the comment and input Michael.

  5. I prefer the front seat. It is much easier to go mobile, and if you us a mono pod, Joe mount, and camera clamp, the camera can be mounted out of site. Then popped off and popped on the monopod quickly when you have to move. But in my area (extremely rural) I’m stuck in the back more often than not.

    • Going through the archives Tanner :). I prefer front as well. Even when rural in most cases I still rock the front seat as I typically don’t have a view the residence. Every situation different of course.

      I haven’t used any headrest mounts though I am considering experimenting with them. I used a mini gorilla pod today and rigged it to the backseat head rest and it worked ok.

      Andrew

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