Surveillance is a highly rewarding process if done correctly. Every private investigator has their own style and methodology. Listed below are some of the things that have made my surveillance missions have great success.
Surveillance Tips and Techniques from Anderson Investigations Experts
Required Camera Equipment
HD / Digital Video Camcorder (SD Card Format)- I currently use a Cannon Vixia HF R800 and love the quick zoom, the video quality and how steady the video is.
8 to 10 Hours Backup Battery- 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, especially if you go to sporting event, park, theme park or a hike with the subject.
Tripod/Monopod- Steady documentation is very important to insurance related surveillance. Having a tri/monopod allows you to quickly obtain steady video documentation of your subject. You definitely do not want to submit shaky video to the client especially if it goes to court.
USB Cable for video upload
Covert Cameras- 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 inside the Walmart, grocery store, etc. 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 Sony Bloggy camera, with a privacy screen on it. I like that I can see what I’m shooting and it also looks like a cell phone to be discrete on a grocery cart or bar top.
Required Field Equipment
The following equipment / items are necessary in order for Investigators to successfully complete an investigation.
State issued license
Binoculars- During surveillance, you are going to need to be able to look far away, sometimes at moments notice. For that reason, 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 and it’s very compact. Yes, I have considered a more powerful set but I’ve never had an issue when it comes to using it to IDing a subject or getting a license plate number.
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. Especially in the hot desert, batteries don’t last as long as you like, especially if you’re in the shade, with the car just on and listening to the radio or if you forget to turn your headlights off by mistake.
I have used the Portable Car Battery Jump Starter off Amazon to jump my vehicle several times in my career. Plus it’s a nice thing tojust have in the vehicle to help a stranded motorist that you’ll come across. I have also 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. As the old saying goes, it’s not if it’s going to happen, but when.
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 and a tire compressor too. Some of the portable jump starters have a compressor attached to it now as well.
Tool Set- 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
Sunshades- Everyone usually has one in the desert, but get a black one for the reason this will help you button up while parked in a neighborhood or shopping center. Some investigators cut a flap in eye sight and reattach with Velcro when needed, but I just tilt it enough to see out. Then if a noisy neighbor comes up, I just adjust the shade some so they can’t see in. Combine this with dark tinted windows, usually no one can see in.
Laptop w/ Window 7 or Windows 10 (Mac and Apples are not the best)
Smart cell phone with the ability to activate a Wi-Fi hot spot
AC/DC converter (95-100 watt minimum)- If you are not familiar with this, this 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 purchase through Amazon or even Walmart has them and I like the the Black and Decker Inverter. This has lasted several years. But anyone you may choose these days, check the reviews, check the adapters and make sure it’s greater than 100 watt.
Also, make sure when charging a large battery, like a laptop, that your vehicle is running. Sometimes an alarm will trigger when the juice is running out to give you a head up to not drain the car battery. Charging smaller items like phones, video cameras, and other small electronic devices should not require the vehicle to be running, just the key turned on.
Postage supplies (padded envelopes, stamps, scratch paper, tape)
Pen and Paper- Notes, notes and more notes.
Travel bag with minimum (3) days’ worth of clothing & personal care supplies including gym clothes- 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.
Toilet Paper- I don’t think I need to elaborate on this.
Pee Bottle- Gotta go with the Powerade or Gatorade bottle. The end.
GPS- When I began conducting surveillance almost 11 years ago I had a GPS device, that was more than a pain if anything. Having a GPS device during surveillance provided me with some advantages though and was way easier than using a road map like some of the old dogs in the field used. Now a days, I use Google Maps on my phone should you not want to purchase a GPS device.
I don’t have to map out my route prior to the surveillance. I just type in the address and head out. The directions pop up on my Apple IWatch and makes life way easier. (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, intersections in an unfamiliar area and parallel streets so I don’t have to follow directly behind them in a residential.
I can quickly find canvassing points like stores, restaurants, and courthouses should visual be broken.
Emergency money (minimum $3.00 in quarters & $60.00 cash)- 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 check and debit/credit card. Having a couple dollars in change for parking meters doesn’t hurt either.
The following is required to assist Investigators in conducting a successful investigation; i.e. pretexting and following indoors. The idea behind additional clothing is that an Investigator may enter almost any type of place of business and be able to blend in.
Required Pretext Equipment
Extra shirts Change of casual clothing
Clipboard Picture of dog or cat
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.