Keep the PI in the loop.

Surveillance is a key aspect of private investigation work.

Clients may request surveillance when they know their target subject will be difficult to capture through traditional methods of service of process alone. Or they may want to gain more insight on an individual or a location. At the end of the day, the client wants to build a case, so private investigators step in to help make this happen.

Here, you can learn more about the different instances that sometimes require private investigation. Surveillance can be used in all types of cases and usually requires extensive work by the private investigator, meaning hours of observation. However, the investigator can only work with what the client provides. This means the client must allot a certain number of hours to get the job done and must give as detailed of a description as possible of the subject, for instance, so the investigator knows what, or who, to look for. Other details include the model and make of the subject’s vehicle(s) and daily routines.

This page gives a nice and brief overview of how a PI moves. A reasonable number of hours are needed as surveillance requires the investigator to sit for hours on end and do nothing but watch for activity, which, sometimes, doesn’t even happen.

The client pays for the type of surveillance that will get done. In other words, you get what you pay for. If the client only chooses to pay for an hour of surveillance, chances are, he or she won’t reap much. But if at least four or five hours are on the table, for instance, the probability of obtaining something valuable would be much higher.

Just as with service of process, the client must put himself or herself in the private investigator’s shoes. The client should ask him- or herself questions such as:

  • What time of day should this be done?
  • What does John Doe’s typical schedule look like?
  • What does John Doe look like?
  • What are we trying to prove?

Most importantly, it should be remembered that the PI and the client are working together as a team. That’s what matters and is what helps to make the job successful. ♦



When you set up a surveillance, make sure you give your operator all of the information he’s gonna need, especially how many hours you’re gonna give him. Don’t shortchange yourself. Don’t think you’re gonna find somebody and follow them and give the guy eight hours to do it when it’s a very important, high-profile, high-dollar case. Don’t do that, because you’re not gonna get anything; you’re gonna waste your money.

So, it’s up to you, as paralegals, to convince your clients that, “Hey, you want the goods. Expect to spend some money.”

Most investigators do surveillance charge about $100 an hour, some a little more, some a little less. But it’s about an average of $100 an hour. Give them a dollar figure. You’ve got $3,000 to work with. I could videotape anybody anywhere in any position you want, okay, in 30 hours. Don’t say, “I need it done this morning,” and you’ve got four hours, because you barely get enough time to drive there in four hours in some of these things.

So, make sure that you have down the hours that the investigator can work and give them all the information possible, especially if you have pictures.

You don’t wanna do what I did once when I was doing a job. I was given an address, given a car, given a tag number, and I was told it was a Hispanic female. Period. I went there. I set up across the street. Hispanic female comes out of the house, gets to the same car, and she starts washing the car. Now, I got 45 minutes of a person washing a car, bending over, kneeling down, laying on a thing scrubbing things, every position you could possibly think of, and I’m thinking, “I got her solid.”

I come back. I present the tape to the attorney. He looks at it. He says, “That’s not her.” I said, “She’s Hispanic, female, this house, this address, this car.” He said, “Oh, no. The person we’re looking for is 280 pounds.”

Well, why didn’t you tell me this? This girl was a little 100-pound nothing. If we had that information, we wouldn’t have wasted the time, we wouldn’t have wasted the video. Okay? So, make sure you give all the information that you’ve got because the tiniest little detail can be the difference between a good surveillance and a bad surveillance.

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