There are two ways to become an expert in your career as a Private Investigator. The first way is to learn by trial and error…that is, if your errors don’t land you in the penalty box legally.
The second way is to learn from more experienced PIs what to do and (even more importantly) what not to do when conducting mobile surveillance. This includes both learning how to sidestep legal grey areas and how to master and then build upon the industries best practices.
In this article, learn about some of the top common mistakes new PIs make when conducting mobile surveillance; and learn how to avoid these mistakes in your own career.
Mistake 1: Using Your Flashy Ride for Surveillance Work
Right now, head outside and take a good look at your work vehicle. What color is it? How many (if any) decals or bumper stickers does it have? Are you sporting a vanity plate? If you passed your own car on the street, would you instantly know it was yours or would you have to take a closer look at similar other cars before identifying your own?
These questions can make the difference between successful and unsuccessful surveillance. When it comes to what you drive in the off hours, you can own the road like a boss. But when you are on the clock, you want to aim for “completely forgettable” while you are behind the wheel.
How to blend in: Pick a brown or beige vehicle – these are most forgettable and also the least ticketed. Aim for middle-of-the-road (and state-legal) window tint that still gives you decent visibility at dawn and dusk. Aim for “mildly clean” outside and in. And if you get a dent or other visible body damage, get it fixed or get a new work vehicle.
Mistake 2: Not Conducting Pre-Surveillance
Here, you might be thinking, “pre-surveillance?” Why can’t I just do that during “surveillance?”
Imagine staking out a residence all day long. Your bladder is screaming, your stomach is rumbling and your head is pounding. Of course, you see nothing of interest and have nothing to report when your client calls for an update. Then you look at the address on your intake sheet and realize….you’ve been at the wrong house all day long!
This can be such an easy mistake to make when you skip or hurry through the pre-surveillance stage. Pre-surveillance is your chance to do a leisurely tour of the stake-out zone, pick out some strategic spots to park, identify the right address (!) and choose useful exits if the need arises.
How to blend in: Don’t take your work car for day-prior pre-surveillance. Make sure you go on a weekday if your first surveillance day will be on a weekday (weekend traffic and parking patterns may look quite different). Time your pre-surveillance start time with the start time of your actual surveillance for the most accurate intel.
Mistake 3: Thinking You Get Restroom Breaks While on the Job
Many new PIs have driven around the block for a restroom break, only to miss that critical moment when the surveilled subject finally departs the premises. Experienced Private Investigators know there are no restroom breaks while you are on the job.
Of course, experienced Private Investigators also know that even the most robust bladder will only hold out for so long. So they plan ahead. The same holds true for snack and meal breaks, personal phone calls, light reading or even studying for exams.
How to blend in: PIs of both genders have found lots of creative ways to relieve themselves while on the job. From hospital urinals to adult underwear to portable RV toilets, pick one and always have it with you. As far as snacks and meals, memorize these two words: “ice chest.”
As a professional new to the field, you have every bit as good a chance of career success as any other PI does. But you have to be smart and strategic throughout. This includes protecting yourself with Private Investigator Insurance just in case things go south through no fault of your own.