JD Stone’s Blog

investigative

Stalkers and Locate Investigations

Stalker Locating people is an investigator’s job. Commonly called a “locate investigation” or just a “locate,” this type of work assignment represents one of the most common types of investigations received from lawyers, insurance companies and private parties.

Most locates involve serving legal papers. Everything from divorce papers and child support orders to insurance claims or an eviction or maybe a probate notices of someone’s inheritance.  These locate investigations are requested by attorneys and law firms, so the investigator has little need to be concerned about the legitimacy of the investigation.

Sometimes the locate involves finding a family member or an old friend, an Army buddy or former spouse or significant other.  These types of locates require an investigator to exercise a greater amount of caution.  These require a stalker screening process. Where the client’s purpose is to reconnect with an individual, the investigator must be conscious that the request may come from a stalker.

Investigators need safeguards against potentially violating the privacy of the person being located.  The most effective means of screening out potential stalkers is having the client write out a confirmation that they will not receive any information about the person being located until that person has been contacted by the investigator and given their approval for the client to make contact.

Potential stalkers will not, usually, accept the investigator’s conditions for the locate when the learn they won’t get the information unless permission comes from the person being contacted. This effectively screens out the majority of people attempting to hire a locate investigation for inappropriate reasons.

Thoroughness is the investigator’s safety net. Any locate warrants caution.  Before locating the residence address of the subject, check the civil and criminal index under the names of both the client and the subject looking for any instance of restraining orders, domestic violence cases or other matters potentially involving stalking.

Even these precautions do not completely assure that an investigator is not being used to facilitate a stalker.  Ultimately the best defense against investigators being abused by stalkers is to inform and encourage the public about the necessity and importance of making a public record to document instances of stalking or any kind of need for either a civil restraining order or domestic violence restraining order.

These leave an easily discovered public record documenting the actions of the stalker and make the investigator’s cautionary efforts more effective.

To learn more about locate investigations, please visit my website at www.jdstoneagency.com/services/locates

investigative

The Surveillance Serve

serviceofprocess-pic

Any professional involved in serving court papers, also known as serving civil process, will have their own story about how far some people will go to try and evade service of process.  Every story is different, but they have one common element: the person serving process needs to be able to see through the deception and complete the serve.

This task is often beyond the skills of a process server because they don’t have the resources to prepare themselves adequately, in the way a licensed private investigator does.  The private investigator called upon to serve process can afford to be more thorough.

While preparing to serve process, the private investigator runs what we call a “database search” for information to help serve the subject.  The database search makes sure we have the person’s correct name and their current residence information.

With good residence data, the experienced private investigator will take the service of process game to the next level.  Its called the surveillance serve.  As its name suggests, the investigator does not try to serve someone by knocking on their door.  Door knocks are an invitation for the subject to display evasive behavior.

Instead, the investigator puts the subject’s home under surveillance and waits for them to leave.  After all, most people leave their homes to work, shop or just recreate.  When someone leaves the comfort of their home, apartment or condominium, they also leave the protection of their private property.

Once out of doors the investigator begins the act of serving civil process.  First, they will activate one or more covert cameras to catch the moment of service on video.  Then, the investigator leaves their surveillance hide and calls out to the subject.  This part is for the camera.  When the investigator says, “Hey good morning (insert subject’s name),” and the subject turns their head to look, they are served at that point.

Still, the thorough professional will follow up with the comment “you are served.  These are important legal papers and you should consult with an attorney.”   The subject should accept the papers by this time, but many don’t.  Many will still run off or deny who they are.  Its not a problem.

Once served, the investigator may drop the papers and announce “you have been served.  I am leaving these papers here for you.”  Capture all of these events on the video in case the subject or some lawyer tries to get clever and attempt to deny the serve.

The investigator provides the usual proof of service.  However, an investigator will also provide a professional report summarizing the events of the serve which will include color photos drawn from the video.  Finally, the investigator will provide a short clip of the serve to their client.  This can be done by thumb drive, CD or DVD, or by download from services like DropBox or Microsofts OneDrive.

JD Stone was one of the first private investigators to offer the Surveillance Serve and is an expert in the use of covert cameras and their use when serving civil process.

To learn more about JD Stone and his effective use of the Surveillance Serve, please visit his website at www.jdstoneagency.com/services/surveillance.

investigative

Stationary & Moving Surveillance

Surveillance Car  Watching popular entertainment leaves an impression that surveillance is performed by sitting in the front seats of a car parked across the street from the people being watched.

This depiction of surveillance is seen in everything from daytime cop dramas to the new generation of supposed reality shows pitting a cheating spouse and their paramour against the jilted spouse and their investigator.

From the vantage of a film director putting the actors in the front seat makes sense because the camera is able to see the surveillance team performing surveillance.  That’s great for the audience, but for real investigators this is the opposite of the result they need.

For the professional behind the camera, taking video rather than appearing in one, the most crucial element of a successful surveillance is remaining unseen by the subject.   The success of the investigator’s efforts to remain anonymous and invisible to the subject will largely determine the outcome of the case.

Proper surveillance starts with a specially equipped vehicle.  The specifics of the equipment vary between investigators, but most begin by tinting the windows and making custom blackout curtains to fit all of the windows behind the front seats.  One more curtain hangs just behind the front seats dividing the vehicle’s interior between the front and rear seats.

With this equipment in place, the investigators vehicle appears empty when he is performing stationary surveillance.  From the outside, the vehicle’s empty front seats are easily visible and give the impression of an uninhabited parked car.  Tinted windows and blackout curtains mask the rear seats where the investigator sits in darkness, looking out toward the home or workplace of the subject.

The investigator endeavors to find parking that puts the sun on one side of the vehicle and the area under surveillance on the other.  Blackout curtains on the sun side of the vehicle, behind the front seats and across the rear window transform the interior of the investigator’s vehicle into a darkroom with the investigator looking out of a one-way mirror.

This is called a “surveillance hide,” and allows the investigator to use his vehicle to observe and video anonymously.   This technique is also known as “stationary surveillance,” because the investigator and his vehicle are not moving.

Not surprisingly once the subject gets going the surveillance case becomes “moving.” Moving surveillance requires following another vehicle without being noticed and trying to get usable video or photos of the subject’s vehicle to document the route.

Most investigators following a surveillance subject will try to keep one or two other cars between them, masking the investigator from the subject.  This diminishes the likelihood of the subject noticing they are being tailed.

At times, there will be no choice but to get right behind the surveillance subject, typically while they make a turn on a busy street with a traffic signal. Here, the investigator must decide how many times they can turn with the subject without being noticed?

Instead of following into the left turn lane, the investigator can pass the subject, then a U turn sends the investigator back to the same intersection where they can resume tailing the subject once they negotiate their left turn.  This allows the investigator to resume following the subject a few cars back without having had to stop directly behind the subject as they turned left.

The point to moving surveillance is to remain in contact with the subject without being noticed.  The investigator can watch the side mirrors of the subject’s vehicle to see how many times the subject looks directly at the investigator.  More than once is bad and more than twice means the investigator has been noticed, so the emphasis for moving surveillance is remaining discrete.  With this in mind, most investigators will end the surveillance if they believe the subject has become suspicious and return on another day using a different vehicle.

Once moving surveillance has successfully lead the case to the subject’s destination, the destination may be observable by the investigator from the surveillance hide but this is not always true.  The investigator must always be ready to leave their surveillance vehicle and follow the subject on foot.

Similar to following another vehicle, while following a person on foot the investigator tries to keep a few others between them and the subject as a visual screen.  The distance kept between the subject and the investigator depends on the investigator’s equipment.  Miniature hidden covert cameras are useful for getting clear color video and photos up close to the subject with little probability they will notice the cameras.

Being up close and using covert cameras has some down sides.  Remaining discrete requires some distance while good video with a covert camera typically requires getting up close.

Many investigators keep a camera in a specially prepared bag that permits taking video or photos with the camera hidden inside.  The bags have either a small clear plastic window or some open mesh that allows the camera’s lens to see out.

This allows the investigator to remain further from the subject and still get good images while using available cover to mask themselves from the subject’s visual range, increasing their ability to remain in surveillance longer than an investigator who must get up close with a hidden camera.

Most investigators use both, and the decision to remain back or get up close depends on the facts of the case and the goals of the investigation.

For further information on performing surveillance, please visit my website at www.jdstoneagency.com/surveillance

investigative

The Process of Surveillance

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Surveillance is one of the most common services provided to the public by licensed private investigators.  Surveillance involves discretely following someone as they move through their daily routine, obtaining video documentation of their activities.   Sometimes called an “activity check,” surveillance is applicable to a wide range of investigative case types.

For most cases surveillance begins in the morning, with the investigator discretely watching the subject’s residence.  A well-prepared investigator will know what the subject drives and have a digital image ready for reference on a tablet or smart phone.

The purpose of surveillance, in all cases, is the video.  Clear, stable images of the subject framed evenly in the view of the camera is the goal.  Zooming in our out to obtain greater detail should be done smoothly, and the camera should never be jerked or bumped while shooting.

Generally, the camera should be focused upon the whole of the subject so to obtain a full body view as they perform whatever physical activity in which they are engaged.  However, the investigator should also on occasion focus on the face of the subject to get a clear “identification” shot to maintain certainty in the mind of the audience.

Additionally, close in focus should be used at the discretion of the investigator to obtain greater detail based on the facts of the case.  For example, for a cheating spouse case the video would focus in on the couple sharing a kiss or holding hands because those are physical acts whose capture on video essentially satisfies the client’s goal.

Another example of fact focusing are insurance fraud cases.  Where an individual is claiming an insured injury, whether on the job (workers’ compensation) or on someone’s property (property liability) or from an auto accident, and the insurance company suspects the injury is either faked, or has healed and the extent of the injury is now being over stated, the investigator will seek to focus on the physical activity that involves the subject’s injuries.

Back and neck claims are common knowledge in the public, with a strong feeling that any neck or back claim will result in quick and easy money when the insurance company pays off.  There is more truth to that cynical view than is good for us.  fortunately, in many cases the insurance companies fight back with the help of the surveillance investigator.

investigative

Covert Cameras and Service of Process

EyeglassCameraClear Not every case will merit using a licensed private investigator for service of process.  Most “standard” serves can still be performed by a process server.  For those few matters where the subject to be served is either evasive or hard to find (or both) the services of a good private detective will ultimately save time and money.  Plus, your proof of service will include a color picture of the service, captured by a covert eyeglass camera.

The miniaturization of digital camera technology has brought an explosion of covert camera products to the market place.   Affordable and easy to use, they come with the date and time stamp included in the digital file that contains the video.

In recent years the issue of keeping the date and time stamp on the image after upload was very inconsistent between manufacturers.   Many used a separate file for the images, the audio and the date, causing separation when uploaded from camera to computer.

Thankfully the tech world has worked this out, and current cameras have the image, sound and date/time data all saved in a format that uploads together.

The use of these devices does take expertise, and your investigator has it because we have been using these covert cameras since before they were affordable.   Back then we used analog cables leading to a shoulder bag containing a camcorder recording on Hi8 tapes.

The task was the same; to capture clear, stable video of the subject moving in the public.   Applying this knowledge while performing service of process produces color images of the subject receiving their papers.

Choosing the location of the serve is important as well.  While process servers tend to door knock at the subject’s residence, an investigator will use surveillance on the subject and wait for them to exit their homes before performing the serve.

This technique prevents the subject from evading service and makes sure the video images depict a public setting.