The Sub-rosa investigation: Day one

On October 18, 2014, in Blog, by sieditor

The first day of a new case is always exciting.

You’ve got your assignment. You’ve been provided with a name, an address, and a goal. Before setting out, you should always check the following:

Google/Bing/whatever works the address. Know how long it will take you to get there.

Know the person: Google/Bing/whatever social media works for you. Check your sub-rosa list to make sure you have everything you need.


Get there EARLY! Many people have to drive a ways to get to work. If you want to start surveillance at 6:00AM get there at 5:30 AM.


The RESIDENCE: where is it located? In an older neighborhood? Lower income? Middle income? Sub-division? Gated apartment complex? High income? Rural or remote? Even if you have been there before, things may have changed. Take nothing for granted.

Get the VEHICLES. Do not drive up and down the street trying to get license plates. That will get you noticed like a pimple on prom queen. If there are several vehicles have bumper stickers, i.e. My Child is Student of wee at…, or political statements, or sports teams.

NOTE: are lights on? Drapes closed/open? Any Newspapers in the driveway or at the curb? Is it a two car garage with one car off to the side? Do the vehicles look operable? Are there any on-going projects? Is the landscaping well-tended? Are there children’s toys in the yard? Beware of Dog sign? Fenced back yard? Boat? Signs on the yard advocating political candidates? Are there balloons on the mail post? Maybe a Birthday party today. Check the telephone posts and light standards on the way there; garage/yard sale today/coming up? In the neighborhood?

The NEIGHBORS: Do the neighbors have on-going projects that might keep them outside for extended periods and they could take notice of your vehicle? Are their garages open and they have chairs inside where they sit and watch the day go by? Are there gang symbols on the fences? If in a rural area, s there agriculture business and lots of traffic?

Where to SET UP: Best scenario is a secluded spot where you can sit and watch the front door and yard and exits. This doesn’t happen often however. Next best is where you can see the vehicles depart the driveway or curb. If that is not possible, then sit where the most likely exit may be observed. Remember it is always easier to move up and get video than to get noticed before you start. You don’t want to have to drive by every hour to check your activity, but if necessary, do so discretely and do not make U-turns.

It’s gonna get HOT. No matter what the season, what the temperature is outside, it’s gonna be hot sitting in the back of a van or SUV. Look for shade; it helps you keep being unnoticed and helps you keep cool.  Be prepared with water and a cooling system like a neck wrap around soaked in the freezer. Don’t play the radio. Don’t watch videos. Don’t smoke. Don’t make phone calls. Text if needed to correspond to client.

CALL local law enforcement and let them know who you are and where you will conducting stationary surveillance. A caveat: probably best not to call if the person in question is in law enforcement. A caveat: probably best not to call if the person in question is in law enforcement or you know that the city in question checks out every call anyway.

LISTEN! The buzz of machinery may indicate lawn mowing or a leaf blower. Did a car start? Shouting may mean something is going on nearby. Your ears are essential as your eyes. And don’t forget smells-BBQ? Gas?

DIFFICULT SITS Difficult sits include apartment complexes that have the doors to the units facing in and to a common area not visible from the street or inside a Mobile. Home parks may have the same situations. It’s always nice to have a vehicle for your subject, but sometimes you don’t. Try to locate a visitor space or an empty carport space that affords a look at the front door or exit ways. You can always movie if someone comes. Some upscale complexes may have roaming security guards. Think and act like you belong there. Do not fear. You can leave if it gets heated up. If you see the subject approach his vehicle, that’s the time to leave so you don’t immediately follow them out of the complex.

GATED communities include sub-divisions, apartment complexes, and mobile home parks. Looks impossible, but it can be done. Most security gates rise and fall within a few seconds, time enough to scurry yourself in and check the surroundings. Some gates do not allow a second vehicle easily and you might have to walk in a while someone else is walking out. Be sure to collect all info needed while inside i.e. vehicles, description of residence, any projects, etc. You may not be able to remain inside the area and worse! There may be several ways out. In that instance, make sure you have checked the most appropriate exit. Understand that sometimes it takes more than one investigator to successfully negotiate getting a subject out of a gated area.

RURAL and REMOTE areas: California is a big state with lots of different terrain and territories. Canyons, beaches, rivers, redwoods, desert, and all possible conditions that make surveillance darn near impossible apply. Once again, you have to know where you are. Check Google Earth or aerial photos or ask local businesses and homeowners how to get in and out of where you are.

It’s likely you will have to establish surveillance a distance away from the subject’s buildings. Check for sites about the target’s home. Check to see if you can watch while on foot and get back to your vehicle in time if the subject leaves.

Difficult sits may even be in areas where it seems so cozy, but! Alas there is no street parking allowed. But, there might be a house for sale on the block and you can park in the driveway. Look, assess, and determine what will work.

Always keep in mind, the assignment and what you will need to do to follow through and offer results to the client. The FIRST DAY will see the tone for the investigation. This is not a career for the timid or the foolhardy or the mindless machismo. We are professionals and perform with determination and dignity.

By: Robert Estes, PI


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