First and foremost on my list is a notebook and writing utensil. I know that sounds archaic, but in this business I have to take good notes and keep track of exact times; it's of utmost importance when sending reports that the times are correct.
Next and also very high up on the list is a quality DSLR camera. Having the ability to change the lenses depending on how close or far away I am is critical. On some surveillance's there may not be a place a decent distance away to set up so my only option with a view may be to get close and use covert actions (we'll get into that in another blog). Going along with the camera, we also use a tripod or at minimum a mono-pod to steady the camera for those long day time or night time shots. Many times the evidence we collect ends up in court and a blurry picture is no good to anyone when we are testifying and trying to prove a case. Often times we are asked for the metadata to verify the validity of the file so we always keep the original file, but may include a cropped version for the report.
We use an HD quality video camera with the ability for image stabilization to keep targets in focus. The videos are clear, and as steady as possible to make the most of our time. We are able to zoom in and out as need to focus on the target as well as document the location and environment. We may also use a tripod for the video camera to be able to keep a steady hand.
We use a variety of covert cameras that are disguised as anything from sunglasses, to a pen, to a key chain. They are very low-key because sometimes I can't just walk in carrying a big DSLR or video camera. I need to be discrete but still capture the evidence we need to support your case. We also use 1080P dash cameras on every investigation; the ones we use have built-in GPS tracking and map overview capability. This covers us in two ways; we always have the target in view and and we have the exact location at all times while we follow the target. If there is every any question about the amount of time spent with the target, the video can always be provided.
Another important thing to have is an excellent option for night vision and a way to adapt it to our cameras. We use the latest third generation night vision technology so that we never miss anything, even on the darkest nights. Many companies are limited on night time investigations by what they can see and prove in court because they don't have the correct gear. At SIG, it is our policy that if we can't see it, we can't testify to it so we deploy every option to get you the evidence you need.
In my vehicle, I run a mounted computer with online access so that as cars or people show up, I can identify them on the spot if needed. As investigators, we have access to law enforcement grade databases and DMV records. We can quickly pull up backgrounds, addresses, car ownerships, etc. I also have the ability to live track GPS if it is being used in an investigation which leads us into the next tool.
As an investigator, we are currently granted certain privileges to deploy GPS trackers on vehicles as long as very strict criteria is met. We use GPS trackers to track movement, determine a pattern of movement, and to help determine if the target is being truthful in their movements. This also helps us to set up an ideal visual contact by giving us potential places to set up surveillance, obtain video or camera evidence, or to assist in following a target. Under Texas Penal Code Section 16.06(d)(3) it is lawful for a licensed private investigator to install a GPS tracker on a vehicle with the vehicle owner's written consent, as well as the owner's written consent to enter the property the vehicle resides on to actually install the device. That being said, there are some very grey areas to be aware of, the main one being if the vehicle is jointly owned and the spouse is the sole driver of the vehicle. Another thing to consider is if there is a restraining order in place or some other type of court order barring the client or their "Agent" from access to the vehicle. At SIG, we will only legally use GPS and will at times turn down business if a client is only looking to use GPS due to potential conflicts or criteria not being met. It should also be noted for anyone out there who has used, or has considered using a GPS monitor on their own in Texas it is a class A Misdemeanor punishable by up to a year and jail and up to a $4,000.00 fine.
The last tool we'll discuss is computer forensics. I have worked multiple investigations both criminal and civil that someone thought items were deleted from a phone, computer, or personal device. This can include deleted photos, videos, call histories, location history, search histories, as well as things like snapchats which are touted to be temporary. It isn't. Please note that most times just because someone hits delete, it does not mean that whatever they deleted isn't still saved somewhere on the device. We have the ability to search almost any electronic device and find what a person has been doing, who they have been talking to, if there were any messages or pictures deleted, what web pages have you been visiting, etc. If someone had access to a device for even a short period of time (such as while you were sleeping) there may have been enough time to install tracking or malware on a device. Using computer forensics we are able to track and locate all of that information. We have even used cell phone data in criminal cases to clear our clients based on where their phone was on a particular day and time.
Again, these are just some of the tools we use on a day to day basis. It is important to note that no matter how much fancy gear an investigator has, without the training, knowledge and ability to successfully deploy it, it could be useless. We call it trade-craft and it is something that is learned through many years of experience.