Thinking Like a Cop: How to Do Proper Surveillance

There may come a time when you have to do some surveillance on a person.

Maybe you think your girl is cheating on you. Perhaps you want to prove that that loon next door is a serial killer. Or, you could be a deranged stalker type whose in need of some professional help.

Now, you could hire a private investigator. But why miss out in the fun? Besides, if you do it yourself, you’ll save some hard earned cash.

Regardless of the situation, we’re here to help you get started on some good old fashioned surveillance; after all, we’re not here to judge you.

There’s two basic types of surveillance that we’re going to share with you right now.

The first is tailing, or shadowing, a person. The second is the classic stakeout.

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s go over a general rule before you partake in any sort of surveillance.

Do Your Homework

Like most things in life, you never jump into something head first before knowing what’s beneath you.

Find out some obvious information about your target beforehand. Where do they live? Where do they work? What are their habits, or hobbies? What kind of car do they drive? If you know the person, then this is simple. If not, you may have to do some investigative work, which really isn’t that difficult nowadays with the net.

After finding out this general info, you’re also going to have to do some reconnaissance work.

You should know the area, or neighborhood, your subject lives, works, plays, etc.

By doing this, you’ll be able to locate all of the entry and exit points of your subject. You’ll also know the best locations to keep tabs on the subject. Another advantage is knowing the best points where to survey the person, either on foot or in a car, without alarming the subject, or others in the neighborhood. This would include the best vantage points, like a bridge or overpass, to observe the person. Are there available hotels or offices close to your quarry for you to honker down for a bit?

Finally, by knowing the layout of the land, you too can plan an escape route if things get too hairy.

Tips of the Trade

You now know all the vital information about your target, so where do you go from there?


Depending on how hardcore you want to get, this could vary.

You should definitely have, at the very least, a camera, binoculars, notepad and a pen to record and keep on an eye on your subject.

If you do decide to go all out, then check out this store. Here are you can find everything from hidden cameras to listening devices to tracking devices. All of these could help in your investigation, but may not be necessary depending on the case you’re working.

Choose The Proper Attire

Remember, the whole point of surveillance work is to find out information about a person without getting caught yourself. One of the best ways to do that is by blending into the scene.

If the person you’re tailing wears a suit and a tie to work, and spends their free time in nicer establishments, then dress like you belong there too. It wouldn’t be wise to walk into a classier joint wearing your weekend sweats. You’ll stand out immediately.

It also wouldn’t hurt to bring along an extra change of clothes with you as well. It’s not only a quick way to change your appearance, it could also help you out if your subject changes their plans.

What if you leave your place wearing a suit and your subject decides to take the day off for a baseball game? Instead of pushing back your surveillance, just change into the casual pair of clothes you brought with you.

When picking out your outfit, stick with neutral colors, like green or grey. Colors like red and black will usually make you stand out, so try to avoid wearing them.


Wearing a disguise is a great asset, especially if the person you’re surveying knows you.

Simply wearing a ball cap and a pair of shades is the best disguise. It not only covers you’re hair and blocks your eye movement, it also doesn’t seem weird, since it’s a common a look. Of course, wearing sunglasses on a rainy day would look foolish. If that’s the case, then pick up a pair of fake reading glasses to change your look just a bit.

You could also wear a wig and/or facial, but that could be a bit overboard, and could look too fake. The best thing to do, if you want a new look, is to push back your surveillance, be a real man, and grow everything out.

Remember, you want to blend in, so don’t over do your disguise. People will definitely notice you if you’re walking around the streets in a sombrero and poncho.

A final tidbit would be wearing a jacket, sweater, hoodie, or some other piece of outer clothing that you can take off. This will prevent your target from spotting you. Think about it. You start following them while in a blue hoodie, you believe that they begin to notice you, take off the hoodie and now you’re just another dude wearing a white shirt.

Keep a Safe Distance

Something that seems so obvious that I shouldn’t even be writing it.

Remember, you want to keep an eye on them, and not the other way around. Make sure your far enough back from the subject so they don’t notice you, but just enough space to see them.

In busy areas this isn’t a problem as you’ll be just another person in the crowd. In more secluded areas, you’ll have to be a bit more stealth. If that’s the case, you should try to walk when they walk and stay behind them by about 20-30 feet.

Another tip would be for you to walk on the other side of the street.

Don’t Stop When They Stop

If your target makes a pit stop, don’t stop in your tracks. That could totally draw attention to yourself. Keep walking, even if you pass them. Hide at the nearest corner, vehicle, building, or anything else that can provide cover, count to three, and look for your target.

If you lost them, then better luck next time. Never run around like a maniac looking for your subject. Remember, you want to be non-chalant.

The only time that you would want to stop in your tracks, is if the person you are following keeps turning around to check you out. As long as they don’t notice you, you can resume your surveillance.

You can also use this method if your target begins to catch on to you.

Look Busy

You’ll look like a psycho if you’re walking down the street with your eyes locked onto a single person. To avoid this, give off the vibe that you’re busy.

Look at your watch or phone, while glancing up to keep tabs on your target.

While staking out a person, remain in your location while reading a paper, book, etc. Who’s really going to bother someone reading at a bench, cafe, etc.? Besides, the paper, or book, will conceal your identity.

Never Make Eye Contact

Another common sense tip, but one we may forget during the surveillance.

You need to pretend that you don’t know the target, or that you have no interest in them. The biggest way to ruin that is by making eye contact with them.

Car Tips

Just like wearing the appropriate attire, your car should also blend in.

If you’re in a shady part of town, then you probably shouldn’t be driving a BMW through there. If you’re in a nicer part of town, your trusty Pinto will probably send out a red flag. If you don’t own the right car for the job, then borrow or rent one that does. Another perk of renting or borrowing a car is that if your subject does know you, then they at least shouldn’t recognize the car.

If you’re surveying your quarry from car, you should park in front of a store, bar, gas station, and move to the passenger seat. Look at a map, your phone, or a read something. People will think that you’re just waiting for the driver to come out and you’ll probably be left alone.

If you have to tail someone on the road, you should mark their vehicle so you don’t lose them. While illegal, busting out one of their back lights would easily accomplish this.

Have a Cover Story

If you’re hanging around an area for an extended period of time, people may start catching on to you.

If neighbors, curious civilians or even the cops come around asking what you you’re doing, make sure you have a solid excuse.

One the simplest things to do is to bring along a dog leash. Say that you were walking your pooch and he ran away. Or, you could say that you’ve been looking for your lost dog. Make sure you know the dog’s name and what type of breed he is.

If you don’t like that excuse, then use the info you obtained when scouting out your target’s area. Is there a coffee shop, bar, or restaurant, or any sort of shop near the subject? If so, then by all means use them. Tell the suspicious person that that certain bar is your favorite one in town. Make sure you know the name and hours of the establishment. It also wouldn’t hurt to show your face in the place so that the regulars and people working at the place have seen you before.

You could also say that you’re working in the area. You could dress up as any sort of worker, like a plumber, cable guy, or real estate agent, but that may raise more questions.

If you go this route, you should have the proper attire, have some knowledge on your type of work and have identification. This would require more work in creating this new persona, but if you do it correctly, the suspicious person will leave it at that. Please don’t impersonate a cop, because that’s just asking for trouble.

Finally, make sure that you have an alias. You shouldn’t go around giving people you’re own name. Make sure that you know everything about your new alas, and have some sort of ID to verify who you say you are. And please, make ure your ID looks official.

With a Little Help From Your Friends

Don’t be too proud to ask people for help.

If the person that you are tailing knows you very well, then you should have someone else survey them.

Have another person stay on a stakeout with you, sometimes a second set of eyes will see things that you didn’t notice. You could also have multiple people fanned out throughout the city to follow your target at different times and places.

The best thing you could do is to bring along a lady friend. Having her stay in the passenger seat of a car, or sitting on a bench, is less alarming then a guy. Women just don’t send out the creep signal that we men do.

Finally, you’ll probably need a witness if you’re gathering evidence, so if you find a major development in your case, make sure someone else is with you to verify it.

Gathering Evidence

This is a given.

Make sure you keep time and dated notes on your surveillance. Photos and video are also essential. As stated earlier, make sure you have a witness to validate your findings. All of this will ensure that your surveillance will hold up, either in court or if you’re handling this one-on-one.


Finally, remember the old saying “patience is a virtue”.

You may spend hours, days, or weeks tailing a person before you stumble upon something juicy. Whatever you do, don’t get impatient. Surveillance takes time, and if you wait it out, it will pay off in the end.

Leave a Comment

  1. minnie haha says:

    my credit collectors are spying on me. they are not good at it. i can spot them right away. but i will not worry, because my bankruptcy court date is next week, yahoooooooo.