If you are getting burned on a surveillance you need to know you are not alone and there is a cure for is this happens frequently. Investigators all over the world are getting burned on a surveillance case as you read this very article. After reading this article your number of incidents will decrease but will not end.
Claimants, and individuals in general are more aware of their surroundings than ever and even more suspicious of activity in their neighborhoods. This makes things increasingly difficult on surveillance investigators as it requires investigators to become more stealthy in their efforts.
What does “Getting Burned on Surveillance” Mean?
If you are unfamiliar with the term “burned”, it simply means that the individual you are watching or following has become aware that they are being followed. They might not know the exact reason but it does not matter because once they are aware of your presence their behavior and daily activities will change which will typically defeat the purpose of the surveillance being conducted.
15 Questions to Ask Yourself Honestly
I was always told that I needed to find the happy medium of surveillance. The effort on a surveillance that is, neither too aggressive nor too passive. Passive investigators lose their subject frequently and have difficulty determining whether claimants are home or any additional information through investigative techniques.
Investigators that are too aggressive set up their surveillance position too close to the subject’s residence, pretext the subject/claimant too aggressively and may pretext neighbors too aggressively which puts the neighborhood on alert.
Below are 15 questions you should ask yourself. These questions are in no particular order but you must answer them none the less.
1. What kind of surveillance vehicle do you have?
I go into great length on my thoughts of surveillance vehicles which is post #15 and post #26. You really need to be honest with yourself in regards to whether your surveillance vehicle is surveillance worthy. Are you using you using the surveillance vehicle you have because you have no choice? Is it because you like the comfort of it but you know it sticks out with your claimant’s or subjects?
I once knew of a female investigator that chose to use a large over sized ugly van and would not change because she could have a toilet and be comfortable. She repeatedly got burned on cases because her vehicle stuck out like a sore thumb.
Are you using a vehicle that is causing you to get burned more than you should? Are you that investigator? Be honest with yourself.
2. Where are you parked? Is it too close? If neighbors or police approach your vehicle will your subject see?
Where you start surveillance is typically where most investigators get burned on their case. If you are too close, don’t fit into the neighborhood or the claimant notices you then they will likely notice you when you follow them out of the neighborhood. I always recommend more than 5 houses away however you may need to be further away depending on the layout of the area.
Try to anticipate worst case scenarios. If neighbors approach you and begin to make a scene near your vehicle, will your subject see it? Will the news of a suspicious vehicle make it to the subject? Will the subject/claimant see the police approach your vehicle?
3. Does your vehicle blend into the neighborhood?
Are other people parked on the street? If not, you may want to consider not parking in the area. If you have to park in an awkward location that you know in your heart is going to draw attention to yourself you might want to consider parking somewhere else.
4. Should you park outside of the neighborhood?
If I don’t like the set up in a neighborhood for whatever reason I will try to take my chances on the route of departure if I know all of the vehicles at the residence. If for some reason during a drive by of the residence my claimant is outside I will do my best to get a position in the neighborhood even if only for a short period of time.
5. Will you have to pretext?
If I know I have to pretext I actually might stay out of the neighborhood if possible. And if I am in the neighborhood before I pretext the claimant or neighbors I will stay out of the neighborhood afterwards hoping to be forgotten.
6. Did you park out of the neighborhood while conducting a physical pretext?
Do not park in the area of the neighborhood you are pretexting unless you have no choice. In typical neighborhoods you should be able to park a block or so away so that after you have conducted your physical pretexting you can walk back to your vehicle and not be connected to it by neighbors or the claimant.
I remember one of my investigators conducted a package pretext and delivered the small package to the claimant’s residence. It was an apartment complex and the claimant watched the investigator walk back to his car which was in view of the claimant’s apartment. The claimant immediately became suspicious of the investigation from that point on and burned that investigator and every other investigator that worked the case regardless of tactics.
7. What pretext are you using? Is it believable?
If your pretext isn’t believable you are only going to make your claimant or neighbors in the area more suspicious and concerned about your presence in the neighborhood.
8. How soon do you start following your subject when they leave their residence?
Be careful how fast you begin following your claimant/subject when they leave their residence. You might want to let them start to turn the corner onto a cross street before you begin following. This is a bit tricky sometimes so don’t wait too long to start following as you may lose them right from the start.
9. How many times have you followed them from their neighborhood area?
If you repeatedly follow your claimant from their residence area, the neighbors or the claimant will start to notice this pattern. It might work once or twice but not for the duration of the investigation.
If you first begin following the subject from the residence area then mix it up and see if there is a pattern of departure. If they always leave one specific way from their residence then sit further away. This way you are picking them up further away from the area they know best.
10. Are you following them all the way back to their home?
I used to do this. I would follow the claimant back to their home and video tape them unloading groceries and then going into their home. This can be great video but it can also draw attention to you and your vehicle. Don’t follow them all the way to their residence. Stop following your subject a couple blocks away from their residence after you are confident they are returning home.
If I saw someone repeatedly park in my neighborhood area exactly are the time that I arrived home I would be very suspicious of that vehicle. Wouldn’t you be suspicious?
11. Are you getting covert video? If so, did you change your clothing or appearance if getting covert video in multipl locations?
If you are getting covert video in several locations throughout the day you need to be changing your appearance. Wearing a hat, jacket or even changing the color of your shirt might be enough to maintain the integrity of your investigation. The key is to be forgettable.
12. Are you running your vehicle in the neighborhood?
It gets too hot or too cold. Your laptop battery dies or you need to charge something else in your vehicle. Either way you need to run your vehicle. You should know by now that running your vehicle no matter where you are draws attention to you. Don’t let it ruin your case.
13. How many phone pretexts have you done?
How often are you pretexing your claimant or subject on the phone. Don’t over pretext your claimant. Confirm that they are home and call it good. Several phone calls a day will only draw attention to you even if you are only hanging up the phone.
14. Are you a smoker? Are you smoking with your windows down?
If you smoke then I know you smoke on surveillance. You might even change your surveillance position to accommodate your smoking. There is nothing like drawing attention to yourself in a neighborhood or while following a subject then having your arm fling out of your window to ash your cigarette. I am not going to tell you to quite smoking but…you need to quit smoking. Or simply replace that habit with something while working surveillance such as eating sunflower seeds.
15. Are you psyching yourself out?
One U-turn by the claimant does not constitute being burned or even heated.
If you think you are getting burned all the time but you have no concrete proof, then you may want to wait for some definite confirmation that you are indeed getting burned. Sometimes we trick ourselves into thinking that we have been made when in fact the claimant has no idea they are being followed.
I will always caution everyone to be safe and to do what your gut tells you. Never do anything that you think will put you in danger or harms way. My overall approach to surveillance is to be as hands-off as possible with the claimant or subject. The less contact I have with them the better as I will be a ghost and never make their radar of concern.
The more honest you are with your abilities, and how you conduct your surveillance the quicker you can make adjustments and find that happy medium during surveillance for every situation.