Surveillance. You can teach most anyone to remain in a static position and watch someone else. And you can also teach most anyone some tricks on how to follow a person in a vehicle.
It’s not so hard to become a competent surveillance operative. If you have common sense and a fair amount of luck, you’ll do okay. But of course, you also have to be able to shoot video. And not just video—clean and clear and steady video. And you have to rise early and work late and do it day in and day out—weekdays, weekends, and holidays.
All the while, you need to keep shooting that clean and clear and steady video. And you have to do all this in big cities with big-city traffic, and in small towns where everyone stares when you drive by, and in country places, and in businesses and bars, and in tough neighborhoods where gang bangers and nosey parkers hang out.
You also have to write reports—not just any reports, but good reports that can be submitted as evidence in a trial in which you may need to testify. You’ll also have to edit and copy video and pull snippets from that video to put in the reports.
You also need to know how to communicate with insurance adjusters and attorneys and county deputies and landlords and poor neighbors and rich business owners and court clerks and lots of local yokels. And it would be good if you also know how to locate people, because a certain percentage of the claimants you go to surveil won’t be where they are supposed to be.
And you need to know how to locate and analyze civil and criminal court records and social media material as you search for nuggets of information in divorce records and work garnishments and accident reports and protection orders and Facebook pictures.
When the surveillance goes mobile, you have to learn how to ride that razor’s edge, where you see-saw back and forth between too close and too far, as you dance around other vehicles and traffic lights and road hazards, all sent by the surveillance gods to molest your surveillance and make you look like a bumbling fool.
When surveillance goes mobile, you have to ride that razor's edge—where you see-saw back and forth from being too close or too far away, while you manage the road hazards swirling around you.
And you need to know when to go for it and when to show restraint—how to use blockers and do u-turns and smooth maneuvers in and out of traffic, and how to safely run red lights and speed down back alleys. And you’ll need to know what to do when you get burned, and still keep track of everything in your notebook so you can prepare that report, which will justify the invoice you are going to send to your client.
Oh yes, and you need to know how to just bloody survive when you’re living on adrenalin and fast food and caffeine and bad motels, and your spouse has mentioned in passing that lawn needs to be mowed, and by the way, the mower is broken and WHEN are we going to get some of those freaking receivables in, as the mortgage payment is due.
And what to say when your spouse doesn’t want to hear the speech again about how surveillance work can be feast or famine, or how you are worried that the surveillance van’s transmission might crap out one day as it is hurtling 90 miles an hour in the opposite direction from where the kids need to be picked up.
And you’ll need to learn how to shoot covert video as you follow subjects inside Home Depots and Targets and Wal Marts. And it would really help to know some basic Spanish: (Está Javier aquí? Dónde está Javier?) And how to survive the brutal heat and the freezing cold as you sit in a vehicle for what seems like a lifetime, and nothing and I mean nothing is happening.
And then there’s the way adrenalin affects your bowels, and the necessity of having an empty Gatorade bottle and a full gas tank and quality tires and sound brakes and the most important thing of all, clean windows.
And if you get all that right, and you know how to control your breathing when your heart is pounding outside your chest, and the windows in your surveillance van are clean, and you go for it and park across the street from the house that you followed your claimant to—that claimant who is off work with a bad back, and who got out of prison a year ago…that claimant who is currently building his mother a new garage.
And as you try to shoot that clean and clear and steady video, your spouse is texting you about the kids, and the sweat pours down your back, and the claimant’s mother is now pointing a bony finger at the strange van with tinted windows parked across the street. And you are groping for an empty Gatorade bottle, and the phone is ringing with the next case—a rush job, of course, full days of work on July 4th weekend…which, by the way, is your wedding anniversary and your kid’s birthday.
And you alone, you just sit and focus on your video camera with the red record light flashing and a flip-screen full of your tattooed, broad-shouldered claimant with the alleged bad back, who is bending at the waist from a standing position, as you alone shoot that clean and clear and steady video.
And then and only then, maybe you smile a little. And that’s how it really is.
End of Report
About the Author:
Steve Koenig has more than twenty-five years of experience investigating cases for insurance companies, attorneys, corporations, and private parties. He owns an investigations firm, Koenig Investigative Agency, in Nebraska, and is founder and past president of the Nebraska Association of Licensed Private Investigators. You can check Steve out on LinkedIn.
Steve Koenig and Ken Mitchell also co-authored the quirky crime novel, They Call Her Ed, which can be found via paperback or on Kindle at Amazon.com. Any questions for Steve, contact him at Steve.PrivateEye1@gmail.com.