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  • Writer's pictureSentry Private Investigators

When Things Go Wrong...

When we as surveillance operatives arrive on a job, all we want is a nice smooth day with a good result and some great footage to hand over to the client at the end of it. The majority of us are well trained and we know exactly what we are doing on the ground, so you would think pulling great results on every single job is standard practice, right? wrong!

There is one thing I have learnt when dealing with clients (which can be quite tricky), and that is how to manage their expectations. Rule number one, DO NOT GUARANTEE ANYTHING! We can only try. We can’t force a subject to do what we want, and as such we have no control over what his or her plans are for the day. It would be great if we could post the days itinerary through their letter box first thing in the morning and they magically follow it to the T. Or, ‘Excuse me sir, would you mind just doing a quick cart wheel along the pavement so I can prove to the client theres nothing wrong with your back?.’ For obvious reasons it doesn’t work like that. If we could do this, every job would be perfect, or actually this wouldn’t even be a job at all. The reality is a lot of the time the subject doesn’t even leave the house, which has been fairly common during the Coronavirus outbreak. Instead, we implement our skills, knowledge and experience on tasks to minimise the risk of things going wrong when they do come out. And far more often than not, we pull it out of the bag and get the results our clients need.

That being said, there are a million and one things that can and do go wrong on jobs. Whether it be your camera malfunctioning, SD cards playing up, your vehicle breaking down, losing sight of the subject as they enter the busy four story Primark on Oxford Street...The list really is endless.

The two worst things that can go wrong on a job are a total loss (not to be confused with a temporary loss), and a hard compromise. Luckily though, these happen or rare occasions (especially hard compromises).

Firstly, a temporary loss is when the subject goes out of sight briefly but you can and likely will regain sight of him or her (or a vehicle) in the very near future. A total loss is exactly as it sounds, we have absolutely no idea where the subject has gone. We then have to move into search procedures and try to relocate him or her. Usually at this point it is unlikely we will find him or her but if we do, it is better than winning the lottery! One way of preventing a total loss is by fitting a GPS tracking device to the subjects vehicle. But bare in mind, things can also go wrong with these (more problems). You may also be under strict instruction forbidding the use of them which is common with many clients. It also may not be feasible or legal to deploy one due to where the vehicle is parked, on private property, behind 10ft electric gates etc. Tracking devices also cannot be deployed directly onto the subject (thats some serious James Bond stuff, not to mention completely illegal) which makes them useless during mobile foot follows. A loss is a loss and it is a fact of life in the game of surveillance. It’s never nice explaining one to the paying client but they usually occur for reasons of which we’re out of our control. Whether it be the subject’s vehicle getting through a set of busy traffic light and the operative is held, or the subject walks along a very busy high street and dips into an equally busy shopping centre. There are many reasons.

Hard compromises...! This is when the subject has 100% confirmed he or she is under surveillance and the operative has been approached, questioned, shouted at, punched etc etc... As mentioned previously, this happens only on the very rare occasion. A surveillance operative can do everything by the book and even exercise extreme caution and still be compromised. A subject may already be aware or have suspicions of surveillance before you even get to the job. The operative will get a feel for this when the subject walks out the house and his or her head resembles a spinning lighthouse beacon. An estate may all be in cahoots informing each other of an unrecognised vehicle parked at the end of the road, which puts the operative on the back foot without even knowing it. Either way, assessments are made and our training is implemented to avoid these potentially serious situations. I won’t give mine away, but a surveillance operative should always have a solid cover story as to what they are doing in the area. The cover story can be a simple as simple as ‘I’m delivering parcels’ (make sure you have some parcels in the car to back it up), or as complicated as ‘I’m a tree enthusiast watching the degree of movement from that Willow Tree over there as the wind blows’. Whatever it is, it must be convincing and you must be able to pull it off.

Being compromised is also usually out of our control. We by no means show up to jobs with a lez a faire attitude and the intention of it happening. But when it does, explaining it to the client is brutal. It’s not just the fact that you have been compromised, the client is also compromised. This could have financial, reputational and in some cases even violent repercussions. The investigation will also likely cease for the foreseeable future meaning the client didn’t get the answers he or she is paying for. But like total losses, they are also a fact of life. The best you can do in these situations is come completely clean. Give every little detail you can to the client and don’t be vague. This could prevent a compromise happening to the next operative on the job and it could even save you the client. Lying about it and being found out will end your private investigator career, or at very least any future dealings with that client.

When things go wrong for regular people at work it can seem like the end of the world and they just give up, call it a day or spend the rest of the day trying to sort it out. For surveillance operatives, when things go wrong professionalism should and must kick in to rectify the problems quickly and effectively. The subject isn’t going to stop moving to give us time to sort our camera settings out, or pull over on the hard shoulder to let us catch up. It’s what separates trained professionals in the industry to the ones who have just bought a camera from Curry’s and jumped on a job. This is one of the reasons why it is so important for a client to carry out due diligence before instructing a private investigator. This industry is unregulated and you may not know who you are dealing with. If you need a carpenter go to If you need a private investigator go to The Association of British Investigators (ABI). Or save your self some time and come straight to us, ;)


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