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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.