Using Your Environment

In a book that I just published, “Surveillance: A Concept of the Art”, I talk about how the street provides many opportunities for a surveillance operator to blend in without looking suspicious. The only limitation would be the operators own imagination and the environment he or she is operating in. An ideal setting would be a foot surveillance that is conducted in the city or an urban area. Suburbs and strict residential neighborhoods however, make this strategy very difficult to pull off.


Back in the day a popular and effective tool was the telephone booth. There aren’t many of those around anymore, and using one today would only make you look more suspicious. Even so, there are many other things that can provide you with the ability to hide in plain sight. For instance, stores, restaurants or street vendors often offer immediate and temporary cover.  One of my favorites is the laundry mat because of the big windows that allow you to look out, and usually it’s filled with people waiting for their clothing. There are also other things like doorways, bus stops, parks, elevated train stations and on and on. All you have to do is think outside the box and try to put yourself in the subject’s position to see what you may be able to get away with.


I’m reminded of a time when as an undercover I was asked to assist another team, just like in my previous blog, by going out into an area that was extremely difficult to buy drugs. I had a unique position in the Narcotics Division that when I wasn’t working on my own cases I would be asked to assist other narcotic teams whenever they had a difficult situation. In any event, I was requested by this team to make a buy and bust transaction in this area because they had never been able to make one and where about to close out the case. Well, I stepped into this community that was teeming with drug dealers and a steep criminal element without having a plan. I figured I’d go in and see what the street would provide. I immediately got a plan and began to pick up empty crack vials that were strewn about on the sidewalk. I told the undercover that was with me to do the same thing. As I picked each vial up I would inspect them in a way that would suggest that I was looking for residue in the vials that I would be able to collect. Well soon enough I got the attention of one of the drug dealers who approached me and said, “What are you doing? I can hook you up. What do you need?” After telling him what I needed, he immediately brought me over to his associates where I was able make a purchase and get a glimpse of the entire stash. Minutes later numerous individuals were arrested and the entire stash was recovered.


If you knew all the details about the area where I bought the drugs you would appreciate the story all the more. This was a place where you could not just walk off the street and buy drugs from people you do not know. This story is a great example of thinking outside the box. If you look hard enough and have a creative mind you will find that the street will often supply you with what you need. 

Eddie Cruz