Leaving the car can be a “naked” feeling for a surveillance operative. But there are plenty of ways to “cover yourself” when you’re following on foot.
by Eddie Cruz
Vehicular surveillance and foot surveillance each have their challenges, but they share a common objective: to be invisible by hiding in plain sight. I’ve done plenty of both and tend to enjoy foot surveillance the most—mainly because I like the freedom of not being confined to a car.
The success of any surveillance operation relies heavily on preparation. And a good surveillance operative should be ready to go from mobile vehicular to foot surveillance at a moment’s notice. You might be riding along with another investigator as a passenger, ready to jump out and follow on foot. Or you might be following a subject by public transport—which means that surveillance on foot is your only option.
If you suspect that you’ll be on foot for all or part of the job, plan accordingly. Choose clothing that blends well into the places you’re likely to go (and is weather-appropriate), carry lightweight recording equipment that won’t attract attention (including your smartphone), and review the local transport system thoroughly.
Once you arrive at the initial assignment location, canvass the area for surveillance cameras, security guards, or anyone who might notice your activities (such as a doorman). Check for all possible exits from the location under surveillance, and choose the best possible observation post.
From there, don’t just watch the exit(s); keep assessing the whole area, and planning how you might follow your subject(s) once they appear. Is the area busy enough with foot traffic for you to follow closely on the same side of the street, or should you stay further back, or even cross the street to follow? You may be in a busy area, but if there aren’t many pedestrians, you’ll have to maintain your distance. You don’t want be too close, as illustrated in figure 1, without any cover.
While you wait for your subject to emerge (or arrive), your goal is to always be “quiet”—no unnecessary movement or pacing back and forth. You want to be invisible.
When your subject emerges, stay still and avoid any sudden moves that will make you detectable. Allow the situation to develop before actively engaging. In the meantime, gather as much information about the subject’s attire and demeanor as you can. This may be your first view of the subject, who may not look much like the photos you’ve studied.
This is your best chance to get a strong sense of who this person is, what they look like, their direction of flight.
When you finally engage, give the subject just enough space. You don’t want to be too far back. I’ve seen many investigators give their subjects so much room, that they end up losing them in a crowd or down a side street. If the situation permits you to follow your subject from the same side of the street, remain in their blind spot behind other pedestrians. The same holds true if you decide to follow your subject from across the street, with the exception that you don’t have to be directly behind a pedestrian.
Another reason to stay out of the subject’s line of sight is that you may need to occasionally “hustle up” to catch up and stay close. One caveat: If your subject turns a corner, you do not want to be caught rushing around that corner. Hustle up just shy of the turn, then continue at a normal pace and cross the street, if possible.
Remember: Going around a corner can be used as a counter-surveillance move—where the subject immediately turns around after turning the corner to see who is following. In fact, you should always plan to cross the street when your subject turns a corner, in order to prevent detection.
For a visual of that, see figures 2 and 3 below.
Things get even more interesting when your target enters the subway system. In this environment, you need to get closer. It’s easy to lose the target among all the other hurried passengers (or even on a train if your target suddenly decides to exit without any prior indication). Add to that the multiple destinations and train lines, and you have an atmosphere of confusion, where you’ve got to make decisions very quickly.
Buses are no bargain either. The surveillance operator is at a tremendous disadvantage here, because unless the bus (or bus stop) is crowded, there’s no viable concealment for the investigator.
Regardless of what situation you find yourself in, it’s important to remember this: Always avoid eye contact. Your eyes will betray you. Instead, use your peripheral vision (while pretending to read a paper or study your smartphone). You can also use reflective surfaces like windows to keep an eye on your subject.
Surveillance isn’t easy—it can humble even the best operator. After many years in this field, I have assembled the lessons I’ve learned—the easy way and otherwise—into a book that I believe will be useful to anyone trying to succeed in this field.
In researching the topic of surveillance, I studied what other operators do. I learned some things I didn’t know before, and also confirmed that some things I was doing were correct and common practice among the pros. I hope the tips above can offer the same thing to you: one part new information, one part confirmation of the wisdom you’ve already acquired.
This article was adapted from Surveillance: A Concept of the Art.
About the author:
Eddie Cruz was raised in the tough streets of East New York, Brooklyn, where he overcame the crime, drugs and gang activities that were part of his day-to-day life. Those years prepared him well to be a successful undercover for the New York City Police Department, and later, to become a private investigator.
During his years as an undercover, he was immersed in the dark world of narcotics, where he also conducted numerous physical surveillances and assisted federal agencies with narcotic investigations. After retirement, he entered the private sector and focused primarily on surveillance work. Eddie is a licensed private investigator who often works as an independent contractor for PI companies. Using his experience in law enforcement and private investigations, he created Surveillance: A Concept of the Art, an easy-to-use and comprehensive guide for surveillance operators. Follow him on Instagram @ecruz_author or Twitter @ecruz_author, or check out his website: Eddiecruz.net.