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A Thanksgiving Weekend Surveillance Tale

Contributed by: Brian Coykendall

The holiday season is upon us and as most prepare for shopping, eating, decorating and spending time with family, a small group of investigators who conduct covert surveillance for a living are preparing for what it takes to document these very same activities being done by our targets.  The holiday season is unquestionably one of the busiest surveillance times of the year and having just experienced the Thanksgiving weekend and the challenges of conducting surveillance during this time of year, I thought it would be a great chance to share a short story (short for me that is) of how our team functions to ensure that our surveillance operations are successful for our clients.

First off, we have to discuss the hours.  Most of the year, we are able to maneuver cases to fit into the pre-determined time slots that best match the intelligence we have on a specific target.  This is intelligence based surveillance and our office team does an awesome job at collecting a ton of information on everyone we follow in the field long before we get on site (Thank you Christian and @Adam Groth).  During the holidays however; all bets are off, specifically in the sense that no one is following their known patterns.  School is out, people are not at work and although we may catch the “Going to Grandma’s House for Dinner” Facebook post, most schedules are out the window.  When our clients request surveillance this time of year, there is often a fairly specific objective; “let’s see if they go black Friday shopping” or “the claim is they can’t drive, but their family is all out of town, let’s see what happens”.  As a result, the surveillance days themselves are usually scheduled in larger blocks of time and/or consecutive days, meaning that we must be even more precise on our intel to ensure we are sitting at the correct home and watching for the right people.  Our office team is in overdrive trying to sort through the data on these requests right up until the last hours of the day prior to a holiday.

None of our clients want eight hours of us sitting on a house that we are not sure is occupied or that the target may have moved from.

Despite the work prior to surveillance, in some circumstances, information from the field is necessary to confirm data needed to continue a surveillance assignment.  As a result, each case has a backup plan with possible additional addresses, relative’s homes, other vehicles to look out for and information as to who is on-call in case we appear to be off target.  This scenario played out perfectly this past weekend and we saved a case from potentially poor results.

I was working a multiple consecutive day file up north with a lot of time and our client’s money committed to just this one weekend.  That’s a lot of pressure first off, but secondly, our target was immediately identified by our office as someone who moves around a lot.  This along with being recently divorced and not owning a home of his own created a “problem file” scenario.  We all know that case; the target’s driver’s license is registered at address A, his vehicle is registered at address B and his “data hits” show him at address C, all while being young enough to still be living at mom and dad’s which is address D.  I arrived at the client provided address to find no vehicles and no signs of life.  Knowing that a couple of the other addresses were nearby, I conducted some spot checks to see if I could locate our guy’s vehicle.  No luck.  Four addresses, no vehicles belonging to our target or his family at any of them, no signs of life and out of options.  I got a hold of the on-call research investigator for the weekend and she was able to do some digging based on the vehicles I did see at a couple of the other addresses, immediately ruling one out based on what we saw there (it appeared that an unrelated older couple recently moved in based on the vehicle).  Down to three addresses….  One of which also had a vehicle parked at it, registered to female who was the same age as are target.  A few minutes of social media searches later and the on-call research investigator was able to tell me that our target’s known family members and this woman (the homeowner of address #3) are connected on social media.  Based on the assumption that they are likely dating, we continued back to that address where her vehicle was parked.  Within minutes, our target arrived at the home.  Even better, he was carrying in groceries and walked straight into the home without knocking, giving us a pretty good indication that he is living at this location.  Now if he would only go ahead and register his driver’s licenses and vehicle there, that would be great!

That’s a long route to getting it right and although the report will simply reflect that we conducted some spot checks and ended up with video of the target at a new address, it was well worth the effort to avoid doing it wrong for three days straight with nothing of value for our client.  Hopefully this little insight into how we operate here at Sherlock Investigations was fun!  I plan to share more stories with everyone soon (after the holidays of course)!  Thank you for reading.  Any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly at BC1@claimspi.com or online at Brian Coykendall LinkedIn.