I enjoyed working as a surveillance operative in the investigation of some serious criminal activities because it has the edge of adrenalin I missed after leaving the military but it was also a good chance to use my skills and get criminals off the streets and protect people by being proactive instead of reactive.
Because the subjects that I was watching were more risk than the insurance subjects that most investigators get to work on, you have to be aware that my subjects won't play nice if they catch you. They face long jail time based on your evidence and often will not let you leave with it if they detect you conducting surveillance.
I was tasked to conduct surveillance on a drug manufacturing house that had serious turnover and sales of popular chemical based tablets. I was required to locate my post as close as possible to get video and photographic evidence showing clear shots of faces for identification purposes of all buyers and sellers of these drugs.
The house was located in a residential area of a city and had the normal roads and parking issues for selecting a suitable surveillance post.
This house had an open yard but all windows had the blinds and curtains taped down to prevent them opening. The neighbours houses had some medium fences and tree obstructions which meant that I had to park within the same block on the road in my vehicle. This is never ideal with criminal investigations and especially since my back up car was out of site two blocks away on standby.
Surveillance operatives always assess the local conditions, days, dates, and weather conditions when deciding to pick a cover story. The more you know about the area the better your story will stand up under test.
Investigators also always carry a suitcase in their boot filled with odds and ends for use during operational shifts. I selected some empty beer bottles of a cheap kind and rolled them on the floor of the car. I then cracked open a beer to let go warm and took a couple of drinks for flavour and smell. I then selected a sealed plastic bag and hid that nearby.
I positioned my vehicle and then used my gear to start taking photographs and videos of all the people I could get. I was starting the operation and we had no ID photographs of any of these people yet. My priority was to ID and get car registrations for as many as possible.
Business as usual
This drug house had a lot of people coming and going. It seemed there was a new vehicle would pull up outside and a person would approach the front door to make their purchase. The people inside very rarely ever showed more than a hand through the door while they did business. Smart but not perfect. All I needed was to get an ID shot on one of the inside people to crack the rest.
Even criminals have security patrols
I had taken over 50 ID photographs and had logged twenty vehicles by lunch time and I still had 6 more hours to go before the next operator would take up position.
I noticed activity at the front door when there was no buyers nearby so I got ready to snap ID shots of my main subjects. I saw straight away that two big ugly dogs had come out to play and were sniffing the ground hard. I snapped some shots of them just in case.
Then my blood froze as I realised they were on long leads and the door was still partially open. I focused my video camera on the door and went for a close up shot just in case the dogs yanked the door open by mistake.
It was then I detected the security patrol coming out for a check. A strong build male had the two leads around his wrist while wearing baggy work clothes that added to his bulk.
Their security guard was mean looking
The unknown male was videoed by me for a minute or two as he walked around the front yard looking at the windows and trees nearby. Inexperienced investigators hide in trees: DON'T because you have nowhere to go and it looks stupid to explain to anybody.
Then I observed the male started to walk along the street edge with the dogs checking out the stationary cars towards me. I had only 7 car cover and couldn't very well just have driven off as this would have burnt me anyway.
This male had a pistol holster strapped to his thigh and it looked heavy. This had become dangerous and I suspected that he would have used it to stop my photographs getting out.
Quickly hiding my cameras I reached for the plastic bag and worked quickly.
A little unknown fact about surveillance operatives is that you can't leave to go to the toilet. Seems common sense, well you will still need to go at some point no matter how well you planned your operation.
The special forces also use this system. The investigator uses a large plastic bag to shit in. It needs to be really strong and a double seal system or you will notice it. For urine most guys use a gatorade bottle, for their wide neck, and fill that up. This is why you never pick up strange objects in an investigators vehicle.
In my case this bag had really, really good fake vomit in it. Recipe from a special effects stunt man and it works really well. I threw this down my chest and over my chin to make it appear that I was drunk and had thrown up.
I then poured a bottle of urine over my crutch and let some leak out the door.
Dogs come close
I slowly laid back into my seat with a drunk appearance and watched closely from loose eyelids as the man came close to me. I could tell the dogs were smelling my urine and vomit mix. I can only imagine what that smelt like to a dog after it had sat in my car for over a week. Poor dogs.
I could see the male lean closer to my driver window as he checked out my car and was watching me closer. I would have hit him with the door if I needed to and my hand was close by. Most investigators trick their handles so they can get in and out of the car without hearing the door click. This meant my door would have flown open fast and quiet so I could have disarmed him. The dogs I wasn't that concerned about because someone has set dogs on me before, however that's for another time.
The male stopped looking at me and moved on to the rest. Carefully I could see he was doing a thorough and complete check of all cars parked in the street in his block. When he went back into the main residence I checked my watch for the time and made a log of his activity. I stayed possum for another 30 minutes in case he sprung another patrol to catch us of guard.
There were no further patrols.
I left the position and headed back to command to debrief all the other operators about the activity and to print my photographs for the files.
It is important information like this that can save other investigators lives. So I told them not to position in the block and bring long range cameras for the job. From then on we ended up positioned nearly 1 kilometer away on a hill looking into their front yard.
I went home and cleaned myself off and prepared another bag of vomit, just in case. The other investigators thought it was hilarious but I didn't lose cover and kept the evidence that enabled arrests to be carried out successfully later.
© Copyright 2008 by Paul Baker
Information supplied by Paul Baker
Over twenty years security & risk management experience across Australia to protect corporate clients from critical incidents and security risks.
Previously served in the Military and expert in explosives, weapons, and information gathering techniques.
Achieved formal qualifications in a wide range of security risk management skills and commendations for crisis response operations
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