There's an old adage in the investigative world; a great report can save a horrible investigation, while a horrible report can ruin even the best of investigations. When new investigators join the profession, there are usually mixed emotions to hearing this. At face value, it appears as though one might be suggesting dishonesty. Investigators who are likely to end up with bad reputations, assuming they last in this profession, may even take it as permission. However, those of us with real experience, be it an investigator or client, know better. We know what is really being said is verbiage, tense, grammar, and overall fluidity in the report dictate ease of comprehension, making or breaking any investigation.
Let's start with examples of activity observed on surveillance. If you as the client were to receive a report that read: "I saw Mr. Blue runnin down the street, and jumpin up and down at 5:25 pm. He then went back inside the house. At 6 o'clock he jacked up his car and changed the tire," you may be able to follow it, but it doesn't give you much detail. If the investigator failed to provide screenshots inserted into the surveillance report, you would be forced to watch the video to verify the investigator's assertions and verify what else you were not informed of. However, if your report read: "At 5:25 p.m., the claimant was observed as he exited his residence, walked over to the sidewalk easement between the curb and his property, then proceeded to jog down the street in a southerly direction. About 150 feet away from his residence, the claimant suddenly stopped, squatted down toward the ground, having to bend his knees in the process before standing and performing slight jumps off of the balls of his feet. The claimant then returned to his residence, entering through the front door and disappearing from the investigator's view. During this time, the claimant was observed performing these movements without any canes, crutches, or obvious orthopedic braces," now you have a clear picture of what occurred. Add a couple of date and time-stamped screenshots below the surveillance entry, and the video becomes almost secondary evidence to be used in the event the claimant's attorney sends a request for Discovery.
Now let's look at examples where a claimant was lost in mobile surveillance. "I was following Mr. Blue when he got away from me at an intersection. At 6:00 pm, I terminated surveillance." So, the investigator lost the claimant at an intersection, did not perform any canvassing, and simply went home? Did the investigator lose sight of the claimant due to traffic conditions and possibly a minor error or unforeseen issue, or was he lagging behind three other cars so he could keep sight of some blonde driving a Jeep Wrangler with the doors off? However, if your report reads: "Due to traffic conditions, and the investigator maintaining a minimum distance to avoid detection, the claimant was lost when he made it through a traffic signal at which the investigator was momentarily caught. The investigator immediately performed a safe and legal maneuver to get through the intersection and attempted to re-engage the claimant. The investigator traveled the direction the claimant was last observed heading, until the investigator approached the claimant's neighborhood. At that point, the investigator conducted a spot check of the claimant's residence. Upon arrival, the claimant was not observed. However, the claimant's vehicle was observed parked in the driveway. Stationary surveillance resumed. The claimant was not observed for the remainder of the surveillance period, and surveillance efforts were discontinued at 6:00 p.m., due to the lack of further observable claimant activity." Now, you, as the client, have a clear picture of what occurred. Through no fault of his own, the investigator was caught by a traffic light while the claimant was not. The investigator conducted his maneuver (most likely turning into a parking lot or a series of right and left turns at the intersection), then attempted to re-engage the claimant. You now know the investigator was not distracted, and since his video should support his report, you should also know he was exactly where he stated he was. It isn't a "horrible investigation," but it isn't great. However, there's a clear example of the report saving the investigation by providing precise, virtually unquestionable details of what occurred.
The next time you need surveillance or any other investigative service performed, call the company that will provide you the exact details of the investigation through a properly written report. Call Preferred Intelligence at 214-785-4504.