Emerging Issues in Security

Best Practices for Successful Surveillance Operations

Surveillance operations may be required by security practitioners, private investigators, or corporate security investigators. These field activities may be to prove employee theft or fraud, workers’ compensation fraud, or even to stop a potential workplace violence attack. Successful surveillance requires preparation.

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Kenneth G. Ross has had a long career as an insurance fraud investigator in San Diego, California. He holds the Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) and Certified Insurance Fraud Investigator (CIFI) designations. Ross worked as a police officer for the Long Beach Police Department and is retired from the San Diego Police Department. He has conducted hundreds of surveillance investigations over 35 years, in all conditions and locations, throughout the country. He discusses the primary goals of field surveillance activities:

“The primary goal of surveillance could vary depending on the particular need. In most cases, the goal of surveillance is to accurately and objectively document a person’s activities for a predetermined length of time. The goal of a surveillance might be to determine a person’s daily routine and document the places he or she may travel to and or people he or she may meet. In other cases, the goal may just be to follow a particular individual in hopes that he or she leads the investigation to a previously unknown location.”

Ken talks about mistakes investigators make when conducting field surveillance activities:

“The most common mistakes made when conducting surveillance are improper preparation and a lack of a comprehensive pre-surveillance investigation, including getting a detailed background history. Critical information must be established prior to going into the field. Make certain your subject is at his or her home or office at known addresses and not away on vacation or a business trip. Scout the area where the surveillance is to take place, noting avenues of departure and/or return, both as a pedestrian and in a vehicle. Predetermine the most appropriate setup location that provides the best view of the subject and allows for the least amount of attention drawn to the investigator.

“Establish a physical description of your subject, obtain a photo when available, and determine vehicle descriptions and license plates registered to the subject or any businesses he or she may own. Determine if other subjects may be present in the residence or office location that is to be the primary location for observation. Determine if other family members and other vehicles could be used by your subject but may be registered to another person. Complete a comprehensive background search through on-line sources and investigative databases, to know as much about your subject that could assist you later while in the field. Determine if one vehicle is sufficient to conduct the surveillance investigation or if two would be necessary. In most cases, it is recommended under most conditions to operate a two-person separate vehicle surveillance team.”

He discusses the importance of preparation:

“Additional preparation that is often overlooked or neglected is preparing your surveillance vehicle, equipment, and everything you will need to be confined to your vehicle for extended periods of time, with no ability to vacate your setup location. Make sure your gas tank is full, no matter whether you think you will need it or not. Have items such as a windshield shade, blackout curtains for rear windows, a change of clothes with different hat options to change your look if you have to do surveillance on foot or if you feel you’ve been recognized by your subject. Have different items to put on the dashboard such as from a local sports team, school or business. Have plenty of food and water to last for 24 hours if needed.”