Use Awesome Surveillance Tools Without Spending Thousands On Equipment

By Tamara Shelley | Investigations

Jan 19

Use Awesome surveillance tools without spending thousands on equipment


If you’re like most Investigators, you have a really cool wish list of surveillance and investigative tools that you would love to have. The only problem is that they cost a lot of money, and not every tool is useful on every job.

I have found a couple of solutions to that problem that have saved me thousands and help me look like a rock star to my clients. At the end of the day, our clients don’t care how we got the results, they just want them. It is our job to make sure we do it the most effectively, professionally and legal way possible.

We all know rental vehicles are a must. This is probably the most common thing you rent in order to work a case. I have a business account set up so I can grab a car when I need it and not use my personal vehicle. I personally think it is safer for the case and the investigators. Renting a vehicle can get a little pricey if you use it for a long period of time, but if you built it into your price, it shouldn’t be a problem. I love the idea of renting cars because you can use a different one every day. The only issue is that most of the standard cars do not have tinted windows. I have other solutions for that, but I always ask for one with tint anyway just in case they have one.


15 Steps to Keep Your Company Safe.

Fail to take even one of these steps and you open the door to losses and significant risk.

I recently worked a case where the subject’s home was at an angle to the road and since it was on a very winding country road in a very rural area, static surveillance was not an option. On the same case, the subject would often stay at a friend’s house which had a perfect place to set up for static surveillance. The only problem was that the end of the street where she had to stop before entering the main road was several yards away. I needed to get a photo of who was in the vehicle with her. This was almost impossible with my regular zoom lens. I do have a pretty decent lens, but I needed something more powerful that could peek inside the car while it was at a stop sign.

I had been speaking to a friend who told me she would rent high powered lenses for her camera for her daughter’s events. What? Did she say RENT a lens? Yes! Being a curious investigator that I am, I had to know where you could do this. I must say I was rather surprised that I hadn’t heard about this service before.

I went to a camera shop here in Dallas that does rentals. It was amazing what they had available to rent. I was able to rent a super zoom lens that would cost thousands of dollars to purchase, for about $70. Any size lens you need, most major camera brands are available. See their list of tools and rates here

Another resource is BearCom, a company that rents and sells 2-way radios. They come in really handy when you have several security personnel in different areas of a building or venue where you can’t hear or see them. Radios can be used handheld or with the earpieces in case you need to be a little more discreet. As an investigator I have found them to be useful during surveillance when more than one vehicle is working. It makes it much easier than trying to text and drive or trying to patch someone in on a call. Radios are a wonderful tool, but they too are a little pricey if you are looking to buy them. Consider renting them for the jobs you need them on and not have tools collecting dust when you don’t. The same can be done with GPS tracking units (where and when it is legal to use them).

The other thing I do is talk to my colleagues that I trust and work cases with. I ask them what equipment they have that I don’t. We work out an agreement to borrow tools from each other and make the most of the tools we own. I needed a small action video camera once and found a friend who had one. Since the video is stored on a memory card and not the unit itself, this was a perfect solution to my problem.

Also consider your local PI association meetings and seminars. You can meet wonderful, experienced people who have lots of tips and tricks to share. You may even get some CE credit from the visit.

You may be surprised at what can be rented and borrowed to make your client’s case a success even on a small budget.

If you know of any other tools you’ve rented in the past, I’d love to hear about them. I’m always looking for a find.

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