Cómo sacar el mayor provecho de operaciones de vigilancia

As the Hollywood detective sits in his four-door sedan, he downs numerous cups of coffee to stay awake and occasionally speaks into a two-way radio to other officers also maintaining the same stake-out ritual. Then, finally, in the predawn hours, the villain emerges from the location, playing right into the hands of the seasoned and street-smart hero who tails him to where he commits a crime, takes a hostage, or retrieves some stashed contraband. Then, in action-packed style, the detective handles the entire situation, bringing the case to a successful conclusion.
While surveillances usually do not follow this scenario, those who have conducted such operations will admit that participating in a productive surveillance can be a rewarding and, at times, an exhilarating experience. Second only to operating confidential sources, surveillance is the most frequently employed investigative technique in obtaining arrests, indictments, and convictions for the FBI.
Unlike operating informants, however, conducting a surveillance requires using the team concept. The considerable resources required for a surveillance draw personnel away from other investigative functions, which can pose problems. Also, the potential exists for alerting the subject of the investigation to law enforcement’s interest, which conceivably could compromise the covertness of not only the surveillance but the entire case. Preparation and some fine-tuning at the onset can make the difference between having a productive surveillance and expending expensive resources and coming up empty-handed.
Law enforcement agencies primarily use surveillance to develop both intelligence and evidence to further investigations by identifying subjects, their activities, and their associates, along with their residences, places of business, hangouts, and other related locations. Surveillance also can identify potential sources, corroborate source information, provide security to undercover operatives, and gather data for site surveys. In addition, information obtained from surveillance can provide the probable cause for obtaining authorization for other investigative techniques, such as search warrants and wiretaps.
Special Agent Nason heads the FBI’s Special Operations Group, Aviation and Surveillance Operations Section, Critical Incident Response Group.
Once investigators decide that surveillance is appropriate, their agency’s policy will determine what levels of authorization are needed and how to allocate the necessary resources to the surveillance. Agencies should coordinate planned surveillances on a strict “need-to-know” basis.
At the onset, case managers, in conjunction with the physical surveillance, should consult technical services personnel to explore the feasibility of employing various measures, such as the use of video concealments, remote video, or tracking devices. Employing technical coverage or aircraft can function as force multipliers and enhance overall effectiveness, which can make the difference in obtaining productive results.
Prior to initiating the surveillance, investigators should update subject information to ensure that they have the most current available. For example, a motor vehicle or utility check and confidential source contacts can save a lot of wasted time by revealing that the intended subject recently relocated or sold a vehicle. All team members should receive pertinent details, easily contained on a preprinted form, to include—
the case background;
the surveillance objective;
the subject’s caution statement (e.g., armed and dangerous or known to possess a firearm);
the subject’s previous experience with surveillance and whether the subject appears surveillance conscious; and
the subject’s personal data (e.g., all descriptive data with photo; criminal history; habits, such as martial arts practitioner or bodybuilder, and associates; the vehicles of the subject and associates; and the locations of residences, work, and hangouts).
Realizing that staffing constraints often become an issue in determining the amount of members available for a surveillance, a team of six generally proves optimal for a moving surveillance. Having a larger team reduces the chance of losing the subject and limits exposure of individual team members, enabling the surveillance to remain undetected.
Area Setup
Prior to setting up at a location, surveillance team members should hold an operational briefing to disseminate last-minute updates and to conduct a roll call. Then, they should check their communications, including primary and alternate radio frequencies; review their procedures and assignments, ranging from team leader to log keeper; and inspect their equipment and vehicles, including topping off fuel levels of all vehicles. One unit should conduct a site reconnaissance to assess the area in general and to specifically identify a location to set up the “eye” (i.e., the primary observation point)—or, if necessary, “eyes”—and to determine the likely routes of approach and departure, traffic patterns, and the location of bus stops and train stations, as well as areas to avoid, such as known criminal hangouts.
Once the eye is in place with as unobstructed a view as possible of the subject location, the other team members should position themselves so they cover all potential departure routes. They should minimize driving by the location and congregating in the area as these practices can alert the subject or the subject’s associates to a law enforcement presence. In addition, keeping the radio volume low and concealing law enforcement equipment in vehicles can help team members remain undetected.
Mobile Surveillance
Once initial movement occurs, the eye calls out a description of the subject, always keeping radio transmissions as brief as possible. Because either surveillance detection or losses of the subject generally occur shortly after initial movement, team members should remain alert and exercise extreme care at this point. While time, distance, and conditions determine how long any team member stays with the subject, a rule of thumb is to maintain one or two vehicles between the team member and the subject and “hand off” the subject to another team member after taking one turn.
If the subject is on foot or uses public transportation, team members designated as “legs” should quickly exit and secure their vehicles to assume foot surveillance. On foot, the team adopts an ABC method, wherein the primary eye rotates between team members with at least one team member on the opposite side of the street from the subject.
Static Surveillance
In situations where the surveillance is static (i.e., immobile) or for mobile surveillances that become stationary, staffed vehicles parked on the street are effective for a limited time only. Once team members realize that a particular location will require surveillance for a protracted period, they should use specialty vehicles, such as vans or other utility vehicles, outfitted with closed-circuit television or remote video.
Documentation and Logs
One team member maintains a chronological log to document observations made collectively by the team. Once completed, each team member initials each entry in the log, reporting observations they personally witnessed. The team leader reviews it for accuracy; afterwards, the agency retains the original in the official file as evidence. Investigative personnel receive copies in a timely manner for analysis and logical follow-up.
In addition to the written logs, still photographs and video footage provide visual documentation of an occurrence and constitute the work product of a surveillance. The mere existence of photographs has resulted in countless jury convictions and guilty pleas being entered, thereby saving prosecutor’s offices and law enforcement agencies months of trial preparation, as well as the trial itself. For this reason, investigators should attempt to obtain the highest quality surveillance photographs whenever possible.
Digital Versus Conventional
The conversion from conventional to digital photography has not posed any significant evidentiary problems to date. While it is common knowledge that digital photography images can be easily manipulated, this also holds true when using conventional photography. However, a variety of authentication methods can maintain the integrity of a photo. In addition, adherence to an established handling procedure, such as the use of write-once read-many (WORM) media,3 further reduces vulnerability from a legal challenge.
Still Versus Video
Which type of photos, still or video, is more desirable for surveillance purposes? If possible, investigators should obtain both because both have advantages and drawbacks.
The overall picture quality of still photos generally proves superior to video, even when obtaining a freeze-frame. Additionally, telephoto lenses needed in surveillance photography are more readily available for still cameras. And, individuals can view still photos more easily without the need for a monitor or VCR. A few rules can assist investigators in obtaining high-quality still photos.
Because most investigators are not professional photographers, they should familiarize themselves with the features of a camera before taking it on a surveillance.
Prior to taking photos, they should clean the camera lens and vehicle windshield.
When taking photos from a vehicle, they should turn off the engine and film from a stabilized position using a tripod or makeshift devices, such as the steering wheel or dash board with a towel or beanbag for support.
They should not delete any photos taken.
When photographing from behind tinted glass, they should remember that they will lose at least one f-stop (i.e., the function that regulates the amount of light coming through a camera lens).
To prevent being revealed from back lighting, they should place a dark cloth behind them.
By contrast, video records the action occurring and can be used in conjunction with audio. Video cameras are capable of recording multiple frames per second and generally are easier to operate than some of the high-quality still cameras. To obtain quality footage when using video, investigators should—
set the video camera on manual focus;
clean the lens and vehicle windshield;
video continuously, minimizing camera movement and zooming;
activate the date and time feature and ensure that the correct time and date are displayed;
use the eye piece as the LCD can illuminate them, as well as rapidly expend battery life; and
upon completion, label the tape as the original and include their initials, time, date, and case identifier, as well as slide or remove the write-protect tab to prevent accidental erasure and make copies, labeling them as such.
Investigators always should assume that subjects engaged in operational, terrorist, or criminal activity will attempt to detect surveillance by employing a variety of methods and techniques. For example, as part of Al-Qaeda specialized training, operatives are instructed to follow meticulous operational security. Tactics include conducting dry runs prior to becoming operational, using secondary roads and public transportation to flush out surveillance, and employing prearranged signals to communicate the absence or presence of surveillance to other Al-Qaeda members.
Criminal subjects, particularly drug violators and organized crime figures, employ a variety of measures to detect surveillance, including the use of neighborhood lookouts and tail cars. During surveillances, participants must remain vigilant and alert to the possibility of countersurveillance techniques being employed against them.
Of paramount importance, investigators must remember that many in their profession have been assaulted, injured, and even killed while performing surveillance duties. For this reason, those involved in a surveillance must remain constantly aware of potential safety hazards. A dangerous situation can develop at any time, and investigators never should take it lightly. This becomes compounded when the surveillance occurs in a high-crime area and in hours of darkness. Risk assessments should be carried out at every level on an ongoing basis, which may result in the surveillance being terminated.
Often, the decision to terminate a surveillance can prove as difficult as the one to initiate it. Investigators should consider the following factors when deciding whether or not to terminate the surveillance:
Assuming that the resources still exist, do the present circumstances warrant allocation of these considerable reserves at the expense of other cases or investigative functions?
Is the surveillance still providing intelligence or evidence?
Considering that the longer duration of the surveillance coverage increases the likelihood of detection, does the potential for gains outweigh the increased risk of detection?
Would other investigative techniques or technical coverage prove more appropriate? After all, investigators always can cut back or reinstitute the surveillance if needed.
Surveillance Kit Checklist
Department two-way radio
Handheld portable radio with harness and fully charged spare battery
Mobile phone
Still camera with telephoto lens, adequate supply of film or other removable medium, and spare battery
Video camera with supply of tapes and extra battery
Stabilizing device, such as a portable tripod
Binoculars1 and portable infrared or thermal-imaging2 devices
Detailed road maps for the area
Compass or Global Positioning System receiver
Flashlight with extra batteries
Change of clothing with props, such as hats, to alter appearance and other personal items, including toiletries
Food and water in a cooler
Cash, including coins to use at toll lanes requiring exact change, and toll passes
Extra set of car keys
Towels and glass cleaner
Equipment gear bag to hold above items
Surveillance is a valuable investigative tool and proves similar to most other law enforcement endeavors in that prior planning can go a long way toward increasing the chance of success. Because surveillance is such a resource-intensive operation, it remains incumbent upon those overseeing such efforts to ensure the efficient and effective use of such limited resources.
A successful surveillance not only can bring a case together but also can prove one of the most professionally and personally
fulfilling experiences in a law enforcement officer’s career. Moreover, it can help law enforcement professionals accomplish their sworn duty of preserving the peace and safeguarding the citizens of their communities.
1 For additional information, see Carlyle Poindexter, “Surveillance Optics,”
FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, March 2001, 7-9.
2 For additional information, see Thomas D. Colbridge, “Thermal Imaging: Much Heat but Little Light,” FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, December 1997, 18-24.
3 “Any type of storage medium to which data can be written to only a single time, but can be read from any number of times. WORM media have a significantly longer shelf life than magnetic media and thus are used when data must be preserved for a long time.” Retrieved on December 15, 2003, from https://wombat.doc.ic.ac.uk.
Safety and Security Measures
During a mobile surveillance, do not take unnecessary risks to keep up with a subject speeding, running red lights, or otherwise driving recklessly.
While stationary, keep the vehicle windows closed and the doors locked.
Regularly scan rear view mirrors to observe anyone or any activity to the rear.
Alert other team members to any suspicious or unusual persons or activity in the area.
In high-crime areas and in hours of darkness, remain in a heightened state of alert.
Position vehicle to enable a rapid response to assist others if needed.
Ensure vehicle has emergency equipment lights, siren, and first-aid kit.
Keep identification, weapon, and ballistic vest assessable.
Know and use challenge, password, and other appropriate safety measures to prevent friendly fire situation from developing.
When leaving a vehicle to go on foot surveillance, fully secure the vehicle and equipment inside.

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