A Day in the Life of a Covert Surveillance Operative

A Day in the Life of a Covert Surveillance Operative

Many of you may not know that RGI Solutions also specialise in covert surveillance.  We are tasked to validate/verify the genuineness or otherwise of a subject claim and achieve the objective through a variety of investigative methods including covert surveillance.

What is covert surveillance? Contrary to popular belief, a day in the life of a surveillance operative does not imitate a typical James Bond 007 scenario.  Rather, the reality of the job for the most part can be largely uninteresting, a surveillance operative making an early-morning start and travelling miles to an intended destination, followed by hours of continuous observation awaiting some form of activity to record on video, an essential part of the validation process.

The key to successful surveillance is to provide a discreet and ethical service to the client without alerting the subject to our presence.  This is achieved through a variety of techniques but is undoubtedly dependent on the skill and professionalism of our operatives.  One of these operatives gives his account as follows:

My name is Adrian, I am a Covert Surveillance Officer working on behalf of the Insurance/legal and commercial Industry, and generally I am tasked to carry out day-to-day observations building up a lifestyle of a particular person/s.  Its 4.30am and the alarm jolts me awake. I roll out of bed and head for the kitchen; I put the kettle on, throw in a piece of toast and head for the bathroom. It’s an early start this morning, I’ve got hours of driving ahead of me, and the intelligence provided suggests the subject of today’s surveillance may depart at 6.30am; at least they get a lie in!

Showered and dressed, flask made, toast eaten, I set up my vehicle and fix a covert video camera onto a mount.  I then place other essential tools of the trade that include covert body worn cameras, flask of coffee and a large empty bottle, within easy reach should I need them.

I arrive at my destination and meet up with the rest of the team.  We ensure our encrypted radio communications are working and synchronize the date and time on cameras.  After an initial drive-past of the subject’s home address we formulate a plan and assign tasks. My job to begin with is to ‘hold the trigger’ or in other words to directly observe the address and report any movement to the rest of the team.

It’s a cold dark winter’s morning, the house is in darkness, and there are no signs of any movement. 6.30am comes and goes, still no signs of life. I am glad I wrapped up warm this morning, it is freezing out, and due to my proximity to residential properties, I can’t run the engine so no heating this morning. I shouldn’t complain though, I once spent 12 hours in the back of a van in summer, it was 26 degrees outside, and must have been 40 plus inside. It was not a pretty sight when I got out, though it’s better than paying for a sauna!

At 7.30am somebody stirs within the house, and the curtains open. At 8am the coffee starts to take its toll, thank god for the empty bottle.  The first action of the day occurs at 8.15am, but it transpires to be the subject’s wife performing the school-run. However, another car on the driveway probably denotes the subject is in residence, and he may leave soon.

“Standby, standby” (the term used to inform the team the subject is out) it’s 8.30am; and at last the subject is out of the house. I pass on his description to the team and relay his activities. He enters the car and drives away from the area.  Thus, begins the excitement after hours of patiently waiting.

The subject drives through streets, oblivious to what is happening behind him.  But this is the time when a professional surveillance team truly gels.  Every movement and activity is recorded, not getting too close, but not  too far, hoping, no praying, that we don’t get delayed by an old man who can only just see over the steering wheel of his Nissan Micra.

That’s a stop, stop, stop! It’s 08.55am the subject has arrived at his destination, a large out of town supermarket. He’s out of his vehicle and so am I, still not sure if he is here for the weekly shop or for some other reason. For the rest of the team it’s a waiting game, we have to be sure he’s not stopping to purchase something. He walks through the door and I do the same grabbing a basket, something he hasn’t done. The subject continues to walk and yes, he enters an ‘Employees Only’ door.

This is where the fun begins, and the surveillance operation moves onto a different phase.  Firstly, we need to determine the subject’s role. I maintain “eyes on” the door from the employee’s area.  Sure enough two minutes later he exits wearing a fleece jacket with a well known monogram and makes his way to the tills.

After placing a few food items in my basket, I join the queue at the till and am now in the process of secretly filming the subject as he meets the needs of other customers.  When it’s my turn I hand over the biggest note possible and record his activities as he competently operates a till and provides change.

On exiting, I confirm to the rest of the team that he is indeed working in there, and then check my footage.

For the rest of the day we take it in turns entering the shop, performing repeat test purchases. To keep it interesting we have a mini competition between ourselves as to who can get the best ‘money shot’, the best piece of footage with the subject taking money and providing change.

At 2pm we have enough footage to prove the subjects activities, so it’s time to head back to the office to process the footage and write up a log of today’s events.

At 5.15pm I finally get home, it’s been a long but successful day, at least he went to work today, tomorrows subject may stay home, that means up to 8 hours sitting around waiting, but then again  he could be a builder, or a roofer, or a taxi driver or…anything. That’s the good thing about this job; no two days are the same.

The Covid 19 situation has changed things slightly for us, with the county being advised to stay at home; it means that we have more 3rd party interest (people other than the claimant). Parking, can, at times be a problem as fewer vehicles are leaving. Traffic early on appears to be much lighter, though at school times and in between does not seem much different, as people are visiting shops just to get out of the house. People are also tending to go out walking more, and there seems to be a lot of building work/renovations being carried out. Masks are both a blessing and a curse, they enable us to change appearance using different masks, but identifying people becomes difficult especially in a multi occupancy property.

It is prudent this time to look at each case individually and think about the possible occupation of a claimant and assess if they are likely to go to work, or if they will have been furloughed or likely to work at home.

For more information on our surveillance services offered, please contact Jamie Lankey.Jamie Lankey