As the security industry grows increasingly saturated with operatives, dedication to continual personal development, an in depth knowledge of new technologies and having extra strings to your bow are more important than ever. The role of a Surveillance Operative can be used to supplement an income, or even provide a lucrative salary when executed competently. However, it’s imperative to understand that unlike some other industries, long days (and sometimes weeks) are obligatory – additionally there is a substantial initial outlay of equipment and specialist training required. Operatives are required to have what is considered a basic level of equipment, including high spec cameras, communication kit and a suitable surveillance vehicle, before even being considered suitable for a task.
Surveillance Operatives can regularly find themselves working the length and breadth of the country. There is a common misconception that the life of a Surveillance Operative is a glamorous one, when in reality a lot of time is spent covertly in the back of a vehicle for long hours observing a position. However, it's crucial to have the ability to remain alert and focused at all times, and not to miss a subject, which may leave you only a split second to react. Even when working within a team there is a massive responsibility for each individual, therefore maintaining control of a subject, giving radio commentary and capturing quality evidence are just some of the skills required.
The usual day of a Surveillance Operative begins the evening before a task, as preparation is key. The majority of operators will stay local to the area where the task will take place. Once local, reconnaissance of the target area and likely locations will be conducted. Trigger points are identified, and initial plans formulated. Technical devices are deployed if applicable, rehearsals are conducted and then vehicles and equipment are checked, charged and tested.
The first morning of any surveillance task will usually begin before first light, ensuring all members of the team are in position waiting for the initial sighting of the subject. This is in order for a routine to be established and ensures vital intelligence isn’t missed. One member of the surveillance team operating in a covert surveillance vehicle then deploys to take the trigger. The trigger operative can be in position for minutes or hours, observing a door, a driveway or a gate etc. The trigger operative becomes the eyes and ears of the team providing the remaining members with real time information and updates. Once a subject is identified, it is down to the trigger operative to effectively relay the descriptions and details to the team, allowing for a 'follow' to commence and intelligence to start being gathered.
Once a follow begins either from a vehicle or on foot, the trigger operative must self-extract and catch up with the team. It is vital that clear concise information is relayed over the net, allowing for all members of the team to have a mental visual of what the lead operative is seeing and describing. The main objective of any surveillance task is to maintain control of the subject via observation, and gather quality intelligence. Whether in a vehicle or on foot, each Surveillance Operative is expected to document all evidence observed. Voice recorders can be very handy, as well as hidden or discreet camera equipment to obtain covert imagery by either stills or video, which will later be produced into a report and given to the client.
During the course of a surveillance day, an operative can find themselves operating in a range of environments, so the ability to adapt and improvise to fit any situation is an necessary skill to possess. This allows the operative to maintain observations and control of the subject, despite the changing environment. Operatives can expect to go from operating in the back of a surveillance van to sitting in a restaurant or bar and blending in with the crowd whilst observing a subject.
Despite early starts there are no early finishes, and a surveillance operative can find themselves working 15+ hour days, especially whilst establishing the routine of a subject. Once observations are ceased this does not mean the end of the day for a Surveillance Operative.
Administration and organisation are key aspects of the job and can mean the difference between a good Surveillance Operative and an outstanding one! Upon finally returning to the accommodation, vehicles need to be cleared and sanitised of all kit, the equipment needs to be checked for damages and batteries must be charged in anticipation of the following day's surveillance.
Next for the day are reports - all evidence must be collaborated within the team and then detailed logs produced and given to the team leader. The team leader will merge the teams' logs together and produce a report, however if a single operative conducted a job, then there will always be an expectation for that operative to produce the report.
The report of any surveillance task is the end product. To the client any difficulties or issues that may have happened throughout the day are irrelevant. The client wants, and rightly so expects, to receive a report detailing the day in-depth, along with accompanying still or video imagery. The report is the opportunity to provide evidence to the client that their objectives have been achieved and instruction followed. There will inevitably be questions raised by the clients, but a detailed professional report should minimise the need for clarification.
So that brings us to the end of a basic day in the life of a Surveillance Operative ...... Sleep will usually quickly follow!