3 Things to Know About Surveillance

What do you know about surveillance? Perhaps it is what you have seen on TV or maybe the movies. What kind of expectations do you have and are they realistic?

Let's talk about 3 things you may not have considered when it comes to surveillance.


Surveillance is the art and science of close examination of something or someone. In our case, it is usually of people, but in some cases, we place buildings or other assets under surveillance when it is a counter-surveillance project, which we will speak about another time. For now, when we speak about "surveillance" it is when we watch people.


The first thing to know is that when conducting surveillance the operative and their client are most likely going to want to document something, whether through notes or through visual representation of what is occurring — probably the reason you are hiring the private investigator in the first place.

There are no rules as to what technical equipment a P.I. uses, but usually the more expensive/higher-end gear does the best job at photographing or capturing video. Depending on the end use of the images, usually the better the resolution the easier it is to depict the person or persons involved; clear depiction of what they are doing and the longer the distance a detective can be from them in order to prevent from being spotted, good gear allows for that.

But, have a reasonable expectation. There are a myriad of factors that a private investigator must consider when using his or her tradecraft. Things like how rapid something happens, traffic, environmental factors such as weather, obstructions and a host of other issues can make obtaining documentation, sometimes nearly impossible.


The second thing you may not have thought of, is the limitations a private investigator has, especially during a surveillance. We are often confined to a vehicle, trying to stick to someone without being "made" and need to park near them, follow them on foot and deal with a host of other issues often very rapidly.

This may sound like an excuse, but believe me when I say, most investigators live for this stuff. They enjoy their work and really want to do a bang-up job for their clients. However, there are several other limitations we are constrained by. Here are a few:

  • Budget - Private Investigators often have to work withing very tight constraints with a clients budget. The more you can budget, the more human resource we can use and the more likely you will have at getting to the bottom of the issue you hired us for.

  • Time - Many times, our client has very limited time to get answers. Perhaps something needs answers during an arbitration or during a trial, etc. Time is of the essence. When this is the case, our clients should understand that, although we can work with tight deadlines, we need some reasonable expectations when doing so.

  • Legalities - We have to follow the law. Even though you can give us unfettered access to a car to place GPS on or a house to plant listening devices — we just won't do it. We follow laws, and this includes traffic laws when conducting surveillance. t.


A private investigation should be honest and forthright. Generally speaking, a P.I. is very interested in getting the facts you hire them for. But we don't always tell you what you want to hear.

As an example, something you may not want to hear is, that we "lost the tail", we could not keep up with the person under surveillance for one reason or another. A couple reasons are:

1. You hire one investigator for surveillance, but surveillance is always more advantageous with 2 -3 operatives (back to budget considerations).

2. We feel that the person is checking for surveillance, so we discontinue.

3. We lose them in traffic. It happens! We have to follow the laws when driving and will not put ourselves or the public in danger. We may be great at it, but it does happen and we will always tell you when it does.

Another area you may not want to hear what we have to say is in the results. Whether we are searching for assets and there are none, or we have to break the news that your future bride is not being faithful. We will need to tell you the truth and you need to accept it logically. If we detect that a client may become hostile, we will not release the results, except to your counsel.

Sometimes, once again, your budget does not allow us to get to the bottom of what you hired us for. We will tell you in our engagement letter what we think you should budget, based on experience, but that does not mean that we can always hit that target. There are too many variables. So, when we have to come to you and share results thus far, and the budget needs to be increased to accommodate the strategy, you will ultimately decide whether it is possible.


Ultimately, surveillance can be extremely valuable in helping you understand the actions of another person. We wish for our clients to consider the the issues we have shared in this article so you have an expectation based on the realities of this job, rather than something you have seen in the movies.

It is our job to get to the bottom of what you are asking,whether we uncover right or wrong. We want you to know that most private investigators will always do what is best for their clients and work very hard for the intended needs of the case. Surveillance is just very tricky, therefore, please plan ahead and consider this article as a behind the scenes education on a few facts you should know about surveillance operations.