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The Art of Surveillance: Vehicle Surveillance by Derek Smith

Carrying Out a Surveillance

Surveillance Vehicles

In a previous article I talked about surveillance in general and gave a few tips. In this article I will talk about vehicle surveillance. Usually during surveillance, a vehicle of some sort is needed at some point during the operation. You need to give some special consideration to the vehicle you will use. Here are some tips for your selected vehicle.

  • Choose a vehicle that won’t attract much attention, no matter where its used.
  • The vehicle’s appearance should be unexceptional.
  • It should be a commonly used production line vehicle.
  • It should be adequately powered for the situation. You don’t want it to break down and you want enough power to keep up with the person you are following.
  • More recent models are preferred.
  • Avoid loud and bright colors that might attract attention.
  • Avoid loud exhausts, squeaky brakes, rattles etc.
  • Do not alter the appearance (e.g. spoilers, racks, lights etc.)
  • Do not add distinguishing features (e.g. transfers, parcels on rear shelf, hangings from mirrors, flags, articles on dashboard, wide wheels, noticeable mag wheels, bull bars, etc.)
  • Dents, scratches, repair work etc., make a vehicle more noticeable.
  • There should be no advertising signs that someone might take note of.
  • Ensure all lighting is working correctly. For one, you may need your light, and two, you don’t want the police to stop you during your surveillance and you lose the subject.
  • Ensure it is mechanically sound (for performance, economy, reliability, smoke emission etc.)
  • Do not place books or objects on the front dashboard.
  • Alternate the sun visor positions.
  • Ensure the vehicle is always full of gas. You don’t want to run out of gas during your surveillance.

If you are following on a motorcycle, (which I don’t recommend by the way, because people notice motorcycles more than cars), take two different colored helmets with you, (not bright with stickers though), so you can change at different points during the surveillance.

Preparing for Your Vehicle Surveillance

Before a mobile surveillance starts you should conduct some preparatory advance investigating.

This involves visiting the known locations, such as the persons house or workplace. You need to become familiar with the locations and surroundings. You will be looking at various factors like the best positions for standing and observing and the main exit points.

If you are working with others to conduct the surveillance, you should prepare an “Advance Report” that you can share with the others working with you. As part of the advance work you should prepare a cover story you can use just in case you are approached by either the target, any close neighbors or anyone else who may observe you continually hanging around the area.

Conducting Your Vehicle Surveillance

Following a person in a vehicle can be difficult to do, but I have some general guidelines that can assist you.

  1. When following someone, make sure you have at least one car cover (i.e. one car between you and the target vehicle). Don’t do what you see in the movies and be right behind the person.
  2. If you are following someone in heavy traffic you will need at least two car cover maximum so you won’t lose the person if they make quick moves or exit or make a turn.
  3. On a multi-lane road or a highway, the best position is in the lane to the left or right of the target.
  4. If possible, it’s better to have two teams on a mobile surveillance. These teams will switch at regular intervals. So, for example agent A follows the target, and agent B follows agent A. Then after several minutes agents’ A and B switch. By the way, this technique is also useful for foot surveillance.

Surveillance Kit

Surveillances can often be long and boring and also require some tools. You should prepare a surveillance kit before you start your task. Surveillance kits include items such as:

Personal Belongings:

  1. Changes of clothing.
  2. Money.
  3. Cell phone.
  4. Food and water (not too much, you don’t want to lose the target while you are taking a bathroom break.
  5. Toiletries.
  6. Licenses.
  7. Valuables.


  1. Binoculars.
  2. Tape recorder (or you can record verbal notes using your cell phone).
  3. Writing paper / pens etc.
  4. Travel / carry bags.
  5. Cameras.
  6. Radio.
  7. Flashlight.
  8. Batteries.
  9. Waterproof gear and an extra helmet for agents on a motorbike.

Surveillance in a Building

If your target leaves the vehicle you have to be prepared to leave and follow on foot. If the target enters a building here are some things you should consider:

  1. If possible try to enter the building at a different point than the target if you can do so without losing him or her.
  2. Enter 30 seconds after if possible and walk in with a purpose.
  3. Identify the location of all exits.
  4. Use people for cover.
  5. If the target gets on an elevator, let him or her get in first and see which floor they press. Press the number above or below it. If there are several persons in the elevator stand at the front. When people leave, move with them so you can observe the target’s movements and then follow him or her.
  6. Always keep distance and cover.
  7. In shops use high racks and shelves to provide cover.
  8. Speak with staff to look like you are shopping.
  9. Use mezzanine floors and balconies as vantage points.
  10. Focus on what the target can see when you cannot see the target.
  11. Be aware of reflections in windows. One of the main techniques I use for detecting surveillance is using windows or anything else that reflects.
  12. In restaurants at night you can see them through the window but they can’t see you. In the day you can’t see them through windows generally but they can see you.
  13. If you are inside and target orders a meal, order an entrée. It is quick to eat and cheap and allows you to leave quickly. It is also better to pay once the food is delivered (you can easily make an excuse if needed as to why you want to pay immediately).
  14. Order light quick meals and no alcohol.
  15. Order coke in a short glass – this appears to be an alcoholic drink.

For all types of surveillance, it is very important for you to keep accurate notes: times, dates, locations, descriptions etc. Many people think they will remember but trust me, people always forget some details. If you have to write a report do it as soon as possible after finishing your surveillance while it is still fresh in your memory.

In my next article, I am going to tell you about some of the challenges and disadvantages of performing a surveillance, for stay tuned for that one.

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21 thoughts on “The Art of Surveillance: Vehicle Surveillance by Derek Smith”

  1. Good review. Remember our eyes are not trained to see an object, but symbols that we take as such. Good surveillance requires a retraining of the eye.

    If possible, park near a vehicle similar to yours, or in front a structure of similar color to your vehicle. Try to find obstructions or shadows to break up the visible shape, or lines of your vehicle.

  2. Excellent article. Covered points that every investigator doing surveillance should know – beginners and seasoned professionals. Surveillance is an art – nothing as portrayed on television and in the movies.

  3. That was helpful,but what I am in need of ,is counter surveillance . Like finding listening devices/bugs , wire tap , transmitters , tracer/tracker , hidden cameras , etc. Plus drone detection . I’ve been sought after a few times and i’d like to bring a stop to it . Any ideas or places to check out on this ?

  4. This will come in handy one, sometimes you might feel you have to watch someone so you know what there up to or to see if there playing games. Thanks

  5. What about surveillance of your home or property . Do you guys at fight fast have any information or video on this topic you guys want to share . Thank you.

  6. This reminds me of that weird “Hitman” book from Paladin Press, which I recently found on the Internet. Personally I have other things to do than following people around. It’s called “Stalking” and depending on the contents of your kit, you could get suspected of being a Rapist.

  7. Gordon Chace II I will prepare something with you in mind. I did write a blog about counter surveillance you might be able to fine it in the archives.

  8. James Papastathis, sounds like you have been there too brother. As you know they can be long an boring. Usually not fun filled car chases like in the movies.

  9. #5: the target gets on an elevator, I see the number they press and I press a number above. I am now committed for that floor. The target exits and I continue to the next floor thus losing sight of the target.

    The target enters an elevator with several people. I stand in front and exit with the group. The target remains and I lose the target.

  10. You younger blokes should order this course today. It is crucial in our world to know how to defend yourself or others. Street fighting skills may not be enough to remedy a potential volatile situation. Get this course. Learn it’s valuable techniques and you will have the confidence and skill to master a threatening encounter.