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How to Conduct a Stakeout

Updated on February 18, 2017

You may see them conducted on TV shows or read about them in a book or your local newspaper, but make no mistake "stakeouts" or stationary surveillance can be mentally and physically taxing if not done with the best forethought and planning in mind. Here we are going to inform you about the best practices to follow when planning your stakeout. Warning: This is not as easy as it looks. See below our 12 Step Checklist for Conducting A Stakeout."

1.) Always conduct stakeout in a rented car / car that can't be easily traced back to you.

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This should go without saying, but if your surveillance target is able to recognize you, your vehicle or detect any suspicious behavior on your part, consider your cover blown. Hence, why you should go out of your way to get a vehicle that a.) cannot be easily traced back to you as the observer, b.) does not stand out of place in the area where you are conducting the stakeout.

Therefore, it is suggested that you take steps such as 1.) Ensuring you have a license plate that is from the state or county you are conducting the stakeout. 2.) Make sure that the vehicle tinted or partially-tinted windows. Also, to make absolutely sure that neither you nor your chosen base of operations does not stand out you should probably....

2.) Drive by stakeout location and perform "Spot-Check"

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Nothing ruins a good stakeout more that unexpected surprises. Therefore, you should minimize any unexpected occurrences by scoping the neighborhood where you intend to setup you base of operations. The information you gain from this "Spot-Check" will be invaluable.

The information you gain from this "Spot-Check" will be invaluable. You will be able to see what kind of vehicles are in the target neighborhood, whether or not you can use the landscape to your advantage, whether there are any construction projects which may hinder your investigation, etc.

Note: ***Simply doing a google Street View of your target location is not good enough***. I know that it is extremely tempting to jump the gun and trust that conditions are the same as Google tell you, but real life conditions change very frequently. It is best to visit the location once yourself.

3.) Bring A Friend With You (Ideally One, No More Than Two)

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You should bring a friend with you to a stakeout whenever possible. Not only is an extra person an extra pair of eyes to keep on your target, but they can also be a great source of entertainment and relief (Note: *** Make sure you go on a stakeout with someone you can tolerate). Moreover, a second pair of eyes can often catch something you might miss.

One the other hand, more than likely you are conducting your stakeout from a small, confined space. Therefore, inviting more than one person on a stakeout is asking for trouble. It can be done, but be forewarned.

4.) Record Whatever You See, Using A Visual Recording Device

This one is rather self-explanatory. Often there is no point in doing surveillance unless you intend to gather some evidence visually. In order to do this, you need the right equipment. Get yourself a hi-res digital camera or camcorder that can shoot through panel glass or even tinted glass windows.

5.) Figure Out Your Bathroom Situation / Eat And Drink Sparingly

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Being confined in a small space like a car will eventually wreak havoc on your bladder; so you should have that situation sorted out. For number 1, it would be wise to bring a water bottle (at least for men). For women, something with a wider mouth would be more appropriate.

For number 2, either you or your partner should leave the car when you are sure the coast is clear and take care of your business elsewhere (not inside of the vehicle.) Just make sure that someone always has an eye on the stakeout target.

In truth, the best practice for stakeouts is to eat and drink very little so that you won't need to take many bathroom breaks.

6.) Inform The Police / Know The Law

Laws vary slightly from state-to-state and county-to-county about the extent to which a civilian can carry out their own surveillance. For example, filming someone in a place where they have a "reasonable expectation of privacy" (like a bathroom) is considered illegal in many districts. Also, in the case where you are conducting surveillance in order to gather evidence for legal purposes, there are certain types of surveillance that are simply inadmissible in a courtroom setting. Therefore, you should (as best as you can) know your legal boundaries in conducting a stakeout.

Secondly, police officers from local precincts will often patrol their neighborhoods for a suspicious activity. If they notice your surveillance vehicle, not only will your cover be blown but you could face some legal repercussions. Thus, it is advised that you inform local police about your presence beforehand to take this possibility off the table.

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