Keep Calm and Carry On Surveillance
Posted by Pamela S. on Monday, June 25th, 2012
Surveillance is an art. In fact, you need to have some of the same skills used in various art forms to be an effective investigator. You have to have a fresh eye and be able to handle a video camera. You need to be able to tell the story in the form of a report that is well written and factual. You also need to keep the reader interested. Most of all, to be a brilliant investigator you have to have creativity, which is the genius where all art is formed.
It bothers me when people who have never done it, and I can tell probably don’t have what it takes, brag that they could easily do the job I did for many years. These are the same people who have conducted their own surveillance and followed a spouse to see if he or she was cheating. Some of these people are the same ones who say, “I should write a book about my life, it’s so interesting.” They have no idea about the hard work, skill and talent it takes to be involved in either pursuit.
Surveillance has literally become an art form as some contemporary artists are using a type of surveillance or sousveillance, to comment on society. Sousveillance is inverse surveillance where individuals wear or use cameras and other technology as counter-surveillance or to record their own actions. I wrote a post about sousveillance a while ago. You can read it here: “When the Ones We Watch, Watch Back: Sousveillance and Private Investigation.”
I have known many investigators over the years. As an investigations manager, I was responsible for hiring private investigators. I looked for that special quality, a person who has everything that it takes to become an accomplished investigator. I’ve known people like me, introspective, always questioning, and I’ve also known investigators who just did their job, never analysed or pondered the meaning of their job, but were just as capable.
I’ve met people who wanted to be a private investigator more than anything else on earth. They had the desire, but they weren’t strategic thinkers, they couldn’t execute and they didn’t make the cut. They could never get the hang of surveillance. It didn’t matter if they could manouver a car through busy streets like Mario Andretti. Maybe they wouldn’t lose a subject, but they got burnt because they weren’t subtle or discreet.
The best surveillance investigators I know always seem to be calm, no matter what is happening. They don’t get overwhelmed or become flustered. They are composed, but they react quickly. They are ethical, they don’t “ghost” or do anything that will compromise the integrity of the surveillance. The strong investigators are flexible, tough enough to withstand the rigors of surveillance, but gentle in their approach with people. We are not the police, no one has to talk to us or give us information.
When I started in this business many years ago, I had a boss who told me that I would never make it as a private investigator because I was a woman. He said I wasn’t aggressive enough and I wouldn’t be able to “interrogate anyone.” He was a little misguided, and sexist but this was the early 80s. He also admitted that he was a big fan of Raymond Chandler novels, as am I,but I know the difference between real life and fiction. Some of those people I talked about at the beginning of this post had the same delusions.
Real life isn’t black and white , and surveillance is as much of a grey area as you can get. By that, I mean it is fluid and unpredictable. A skilled investigator knows that you can’t predict what anyone will do, even if they do the same thing day in and day out. The one day you let down your guard, the subject will surprise you. It’s happened to us all.
I think that is one reason former law enforcement personnel often make good investigators. They have some insight into human behavior that most of us don’t get the chance to learn. They have seen it all, and they can keep it together under pressure. Some ex-police have challenges. I have some friends who you can pick off right away as a cop or ex-cop, because they have the look, the walk, the way of talking that commands authority. We all have something that we need to deal with, but you learn to overcome those issues. A clever surveillance investigator is rarely observed if they are conducting mobile surveillance. Foot surveillance is a different matter altogether, you are more vulnerable to being observed. Still, I know some ex-law enforcement who have been conducting surveillance for years. Like anyone working in a profession where you have to be a jack of all trades, an artist of sorts, and a kind of lay psychologist, you learn to adjust your approach, and manage your strengths.
Former FBI Assistant Director Tom Sheer has recruited the best from the FBI, DEA, IRS and Secret Service to build a formidable team at Sheer Investigations. Our private investigators have the sensitivity and experience to handle the most delicate investigations.