#71: How to Conduct Surveillance in a Bar – An Investigation Story Worth Reading. Part 1


I think one of the most frustrating things I encountered 10 years ago when conducting surveillance in a bar or anywhere indoors for that matter was using inferior equipment.  At least inferior compared to the technology today.  In most cases back then investigators had to connect the covert camera to their actual video camera in order to not draw attention to themselves.  If you have watched my covert video camera video you saw the pager camera that I used so many years ago.  The camera worked but it required me to carry around a small bag and even 10 years ago pagers were out dated so I felt a little weird.

So in this blog post I am going to share a story that took place about 8 or 9 years ago in a faraway place called the Northwest (at least it was far away for me).

The case I was about to work had been worked by another investigator with the company I was working for.  The claimant lived in the woods and surveillance was practically impossible if we were to try to follow the claimant from his home.  The investigator called into the residence and through a very soft pretext was able to determine that the claimant was playing in a band (or was the band) in a nearby state which was a couple hours drive from the claimant’s residence.  The investigator called a few bars near the border of the claimant’s state and found out what bar the claimant was playing in.  The investigator picked up his girlfriend on the way to the bar and was on his way.

The investigator identified the claimant playing his one man show at the bar, placed his video camera on a table with a view of the claimant on stage and proceeded to play pool and drink a few beers as the claimant performed on stage.  It was brilliant and incriminating documentation as the claimant was not suppose to be working and had a back problem (if I remember correctly).

bar surveillanceI Enter the Story

You would think that would have been the end of the case but it wasn’t.  The client found out that the claimant was working at a bar near his home.  The bar was in the middle of nowhere with nothing around it.  I was assigned the case and made my way to the bar with my trusty pager camera concealed in a camera bag (brilliant right? False). 

Aside from the claimant which was the bar tender there were only two other men in this bar. I set my camera bag with pager attached to the outside of it on the bar and began videotaping the claimant doing his job.  We started some small talk and he explained to me how he was working at the bar part time, was having problems with his work comp claimant because a private investigator had videotaped someone (not him) chopping wood at his residence, and how that night was a jam night and he was going to be playing his guitar. 

He asked  what I was doing in the area and I told him I was visiting the in-laws and the wife had allowed me to go explore on my own for awhile.  He resonated with my story and we continued to chat.

Towards the end of my time speaking with the claimant he began to pay more attention to my pager and bag then I wanted so I found out what time the jam session was and told the claimant I might be back to watch him play.

LATER THAT NIGHT

I came back later that night and the place was packed.  The claimant was jamming on his guitar with some other guys on the makeshift stage.  I videotaped the claimant for over 4 hours as he did his thing and I just sipped on a beer.  I had to keep going to the bathroom to either switch out batteries in the video camera or to switch out tapes. I am so glad I don’t have to do that anymore. The claimant eventually finished up and came to my table.  After some small talk he pointed to my camera bag and asked me if I was ever going to pull out my camera. I got very paranoid and defensive, pulled the bag closer to me and told him no.  “I just keep my stuff in the bag, like a man bag”.  It sounds pretty dumb but I didn’t want him grabbing it from me for some reason.  I eventually set up my surveillance position outside of the bar and waited for him to leave.  After a couple of hours he made it outside and I videotaped him leaving and let him go. 

I don’t think the case was ever worked again. If it was it was someone else that worked it.

What I Learned that Day about Conducting Surveillance in a Bar

Don’t get so close to the subject if your spy camera isn’t very covert

From a distance the pager camera looks like a pager. Up close the pager camera starts to look like something else with the camera hole clearly visible. 

Small talk usually turns into great information

I didn’t ask the guy if he was on a work comp claim or about his job but many people like to talk and share information.   I felt like a master investigator when the case was over because of the great information I left with which prompted me to get even more video later in the night.

Lighting makes a difference

The light from windows shined directly on the claimant which made it great during the day.  If the light was behind the claimant the video would have turned out bad as I would have only videotaped a silhouette and that makes for bad video. During the night however some of the video appeared washed out because I was too far from him.  Pay attention to the lighting.

If it gets weird, get out

When the claimant started asking about my camera I knew it was time for me to make my way out of the bar.  Not just for concerns of safety (after all that was his home court; he worked there), but to squash any suspicion of investigation.  Live to conduct  surveillance another day.  You want to be forgettable. 

Fit in

You can’t be in a bar without having a drink.  Get a water, beer or apple juice while in the bar. I recommend a glass and not an alcohol shot of some sort.  You don’t want to be drunk on surveillance.  The point is to have something that you can sip on while getting your video.  Fitting in.

Don’t get mental during surveillance

Many times if things feel weird it is usually the investigator over analyzing a situation or their brain making them think that everyone knows what they are doing.  99 percent of the time during a surveillance we are our own worst enemy.  In my story I felt I was doing the right thing.  There are many untold stories where I have battled with being uncomfortable for no reason at all.

Use the best covert video camera you get that fits your budget

The pager camera at that time in my career was the best camera I could use given the technology my company was using and my budget.  I didn’t make enough to get anything fancier then I had.  Prices and technology have changed quite a bit since then and I am taking advantage of it and so should you.  I have made plenty of review videos for spy camera and I hope you check them out before purchasing one.  You can always find what I use at the Private Investigator Store which will link you to the equipment that I recommend.

These are the challenges I faced 8 or 9 years ago with inferior equipment and 1 or 2 years of experience.   These surveillance tips continue to apply and will help you up your game during surveillance, and help you to provide a better product for your company or the one your work for.

Part 2 of this story shares some more recent investigation stories where I had to conduct surveillance in a bar with better covert video cameras.  You may be surprised at some of my results.

Thanks for reading,

Andrew

3 comments

  1. Great story! Love reading information you post and I miss the podcasts!

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