The PI and its various shadowing activities

A private detective, also known as a Private Investigator (PI), is a person who is not a member of a police force but is licensed to do detective work (an investigation of suspected wrongdoing or e.g. searching for missing persons).

Private detectives have been around for 150 years and they usually work for private citizens or businesses rather than the government, like police detectives or crime scene investigators do. Private detectives that are hired by lawforce in criminal cases also have the goal of collecting factual evidence that could help solve a crime, unlike a police detective whose goal is to arrest and prosecute criminals. About a quarter of private detectives today are self employed. A quarter of the remaining private detectives work for detective agencies and security services and the rest work for credit collection services, financial institutions or other businesses. No matter where you work, as a private detective your job is the same. A private detective’s job is to conduct thorough investigations.

Types of Surveillance in Criminal Investigations

Surveillance is the covert observation of people, places and vehicles, which law enforcement agencies and private detectives use to investigate allegations of illegal behavior. These techniques range from physical observation to the electronic monitoring of conversations. Surveillance also carries major risks, however. The detection of a private investigator’s presence in an area will compromise his future activities there.

Electronic Monitoring

Electronic monitoring, or wiretapping, refers to the surveillance of email, fax, Internet and telephone communications. This activity requires a court order to proceed. However, if a person risks severe injury or death, the government can ask to start monitoring communications right away, the U.S. Department of Justice states. Similar exceptions are made for organized crime or national security cases. Once an order is granted, police agencies can identify criminal conspirators to deter or punish the offenders involved. Other examples of electronic monitoring include drones, license plate readers, computer forensics and subpoena of data stored in the cloud. New technologies can push the limits of privacy. For instance, stingray tracking devices allow law enforcement to determine the location of a suspect’s cell phone, as well as the identity of random individuals close by.

Fixed Surveillance

The fixed surveillance, or « stakeout, » requires PI’s to surreptitiously observe people and places from a distance. Variations include the one- and two-person surveillance methods. According to author and criminal justice professor Michael Palmiotto, the two-person approach is considered more desirable. It allows officers to periodically switch positions, reducing a suspect’s chances of spotting them. By contrast, an officer assigned to one-person surveillance can’t take his eyes off the scene and has nobody to relieve him.Surveillance units also call this ‘shadowing’.

Stationary Technical Surveillance

In stationary technical surveillance, the investigator installs a hidden camera and recording equipment in a parked car. The vehicle sits in an area that draws little attention, such as a parking lot. This technique is sometimes called unmanned surveillance.  Investigators can record photo and video images at any time, reducing the need for humans to monitor a situation around the clock. Surveillance teams come and go as they wish, so the risk of discovery is smaller, too.

Three-Person Surveillance

Three-person surveillance methods are more complex to run, but provide two bonuses,PI’s can change positions more often, which greatly reduces the possibility of detection. This technique is also called the ABC Method at times, whose name refers to the PI’s assigned roles. Person A stays behind the suspect, followed by the second PI, Person B. The third PI, Person C, remains on the opposite side of the street, but always moves slightly ahead of — or behind — the suspect/the person to be followed.

Undercover Operations

Undercover operations amount to another form of surveillance, but in this method the PI could potentially play an active role in revealing criminal activities. For example, an undercover gang investigator might begin infiltrating the group by adopting the same hobbies or jobs as the suspects. To gain acceptance within the gang and build trust, the PI must also create a plausible cover story that explains his presence in the neighborhood.

With undercover operations the investigator can get more useful facts and evidence of another’s activities for your protection or court case. A lot of political and everyday people use an investigator for undercover work to help protect them from physical, financial, or even reputation threats.

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