The Reason You Got Burned: Driving By Too Slowly
So, you’re a private investigator on surveillance and you got burned and you don’t know why. Was it because you drove past your Subject’s house too slowly?
So, drive-by video. I learned this lesson early on in my career.
It became ingrained in my brain.
Because I was assigned to a two-person surveillance operation on workers’ compensation claimant in a rural area of Ohio. Like, we’re talking Amish country people. You’ve got horse and buggy, oxen plowing fields, and epic Amish beards.
But, the reason it was a two-man operation wasn’t that it was so rural, but because the previous investigative team (not from our firm) had been burned on it before.
So, our Claimant was already “heated up.”
And we knew why – the client had provided the previous report and video to us, so we knew what they had done wrong.
This Claimant lived on a country road, and the previous investigators had driven past the house too often, and, too slowly.
Eventually, the claimant, who had a residence with a huge bay window at the front of his house, caught on to the drive-bys.
I mean, he probably knew all his neighbors’ cars as it was, and seeing two cars he’d never seen before drive by every half-hour alerted him.
And this was all in the report – the claimant actually got into his own car and tailed the investigators out of the county.
Look, I get it. When you first get onsite to a residence, your natural inclination is to a good establishing shot. You wanna get a shot of the house, the layout, note the plates and vehicles on-site, on top of any action that might be going on.
But that doesn’t mean driving along the road at normal speeds and then all of sudden, dropping it down to a crawl to get some drive-by footage.
That’s a disaster in the making.
So, I’m here to help.
First, obviously, don’t ever drive by the house too slowly. There’s no reason for it.
When you do drive-bys, go at a normal speed every time. As if you were an average joe living in the area.
But when you’re shooting video, get the house in the frame early and pan left or right as you pass the house.
Also, while this is going on, zoom in at first and then zoom out wide as you pass by the house to frame everything up nicely.
It’ll take some practice to both stay on the road with one hand and pan and zoom with your camera hand.
The key is to keep it steady. Keep it level.
This isn’t shaky cam footage Jason Bourne.
If you wanna get really fancy you can get ahold of a window mount, one with a suction cup, and fix your camcorder or even a dash camera to the second-row window of your surveillance vehicle.
Press record, do the drive-by, and later edit out what’s unnecessary.
There’s a link below to a mount to get you started: https://amzn.to/2Yh1NWO
Second, especially in rural areas, limit your drive-bys to every hour or so.
You can certainly do drive-bys every half-hour, but only when you feel you need to.
Like if there have been multiple cars coming and going from the residential area, it’s lunchtime for the Claimant, or something similar.
And don’t just come back up the road in which you initially drove down. Give it time.
Driving by the house within a couple of minutes of each other is suspicious.
Instead, drive by the first time and “flank” back to your original surveillance position by going around the “block” assuming there’s another route to get to your original spot.
However, if the residence is in a hollow (like in Kentucky), like a no-outlet street, I’d limit my drive-bys to every two hours.
And, I know what you’re thinking – I could use drone footage or an unmanned surveillance camera hidden in a rock or safety cone to get static video.
Hold your horses, James Bond. That’s a video for another day.
For now, let’s just stick with the basics.
Third, hide your camera.
It may sound simple but what’s worked for me is to actually place my camera hand or monopod on the top of my left arm to stabilize and hide the camera.
I’ll do this if the residence is on my left side.
If the residence is on my right side, I’ll actually place my camera behind the passenger side headrest to get drive-by footage.
These simple methods help to prevent people from seeing my camera through my front windshield as I drive by.
This is me trying to be as casual as possible.
Lastly, and I can’t believe I have to say this but close your windows when filming drive-bys.
If you can’t get the footage because your windows are foggy or dirty, clean those things before getting onsite for crying out loud.
Overall, use the KISS method – keep it simple, stupid.
Drive by the residence like a normal person would (not too slowly!), limit drive-bys to every hour, hide your camera, and keep your windows up.
And, just in case you were wondering. Even with the knowledge of the previous investigation, we still couldn’t get much of anything on that Claimant in rural Ohio. But, at least he didn’t tail us.
Anybody wanna volunteer to take that case??
Over to you…
What ways can you prevent from getting burned?