Mobile surveillance can, and often does require foot follows in order maintain eyes onto a subject. It is vital for a private investigator/surveillance operative to be trained and prepared for every eventuality as things can change very quickly on the ground. A surveillance operative conducting a foot follow can find his or herself walking down a high street to begin with, followed by jumping into a taxi, followed by boarding a train, followed by boarding a plane to foreign country. Anything can happen which is why we must be flexible to deal with whatever is thrown at us. The art of conducting foot follows requires lots of training and and experience which we could write a whole book about, but in this blog we will just give an insight into how things are done and what to expect in certain situations.
As mentioned, mobile surveillance operatives require a high level of training in order to conduct live foot follow operations effectively. Training providers will teach everything from the basics of a foot follow to the more advanced side of things. The basics will include the theory side of things (tactics), such as what equipment to carry and where to position yourself in certain situations to maximise filming opportunities and remaining undetected from the subject or third parties (filming the subject is a different a lesson altogether which should be covered prior to learning how to conduct a foot follow). Theory training is partly conducted in a classroom but followed up with physical training to best see how things are done in practice. Tactics will change depending on the size of the team an operative is working with. He or she may be working alone which will be vastly different from working in a team of 2, 3 or more. A well trained surveillance operative will be able to quickly adapt to team size variations which is essential on live operations. The more advanced side of training will put everything learnt in the classroom into practice. A good training provider will throw lots of eventualities at a student surveillance operative. When training (and in real life) you will be expected to remain fluid and ready to react to everything. The training provider shouldn't make things easy. You should expect to board all sorts of transport such as taxis, trains and even boats (that was an interesting one on my course). Upon completion of a surveillance course, technically you should be ready to deploy on live operations. However, it is strongly advised to be part of a team to begin with rather than working alone. This will build a budding surveillance operatives experience where he or she can learn the tricks of the trade whilst building experience and connections.
The equipment a private investigator needs to carry on foot follows will vary massively depending on the situation. Surveillance is intelligence led so we prepare (pack) for the task on hand appropriately. For example, if a surveillance operative is required to follow a subject around a high end dinner party wearing a tuxedo, he certainly wouldn't be wearing a backpack full of kit as seen in this image. An operative in this situation would likely be wearing a discreet covert body worn camera. If the operative is expecting to be following a subject around a town centre, then a backpack would be perfectly acceptable. Within the backpack the operative should carry things like camcorders, covert cameras for when its not possible to use a more obvious camera, spare batteries, spare SD cards, spare clothing for appearance changes, various forms of payment (debit/credit cards, cash), mobile phone, headphones, passport, high visibility vests, etc. It is also very important to dress correctly for the environment you are working in. If you are operating on a building site then you need to dress like a builder. Wearing shorts, T-shirt and flip-flops will not work in this instance and the operative will encounter unnecessary issues.
Things can go wrong very quickly in busy areas if the operative doesn't remain focused. A subject can quickly disappear amongst a crowd so it is important to ensure the operative stays close behind, but not too close and causing a compromise. It's all a balancing act of exposure levels. If the operative is seen on too many occasions (we say you have 3 lives), then the subject will (or a 3rd party) will become of aware of surveillance. Working within a team helps greatly when operating in busy areas as there will be multiple sets of eyes on the subject. If one operative feels he or she has had too much exposure, then the next operative can take over, and so on.
As with any profession, it's all down to training and experience. The more experienced a surveillance operative is, the more he or she can pre-empt a subjects movements on a foot follow. Although you should not pre-empt movements entirely (expect the unexpected), an experienced operative will be able to make the judgment call as to when a pre-emptive action is appropriate. There are lots of private investigators in the industry who have skipped the training part and gone straight into the experience end. This is highly unrecommended as this is how cowboys are formed. A surveillance operative that does this will form his or own tactics whilst believing they are correct and causing all sorts of problems on the ground, rather than conducting the tried and tested methods of mobile surveillance. Experience is built on the foundations of training and a professional private investigator specialising in mobile surveillance will ensure he or she is both.
To find out more about mobile surveillance, how it can be used to assist you or how you can take it up as a profession yourself, get in touch with SPI via our Contact Us page.