Those within the loss prevention field have observed the trend to deviate away from hiring private investigators (PI) to do your organized retail crime (ORC) surveillance projects to teaching your in-house investigators within a structured surveillance training program. The cost and complexities of PI contracts have switched to expanding the skills and knowledge of your own investigators. This has proven beneficial to retailers in many ways.
The success of an ORC surveillance team requires proper training in acting, clothing choices, vehicle choices, mobile and foot techniques, communication skills, use of props, eye locations, aggressive driving techniques, and dozens of other related subjects. The major benefit of this training is as a team-building exercise, where trust is developed within the team, which promotes their functioning as a single specialized unit.
Proper training focuses on a team approach for setting up on the subjects’ homes, following them and their associates all day long, gathering evidence within stores while they are stealing merchandise, following them to storage locations, and then notifying the police to arrest and provide the search warrant to recover retailer’s property. Major organized shoplifting rings have been broken by the ORC investigators performing these skills while mobile and on foot surveillance.
The training offered by private investigators does not provide this team method. The average PI usually does not have experience following major criminals as quite often most of their surveillance is single vehicle and insurance-related subjects.
When properly trained, the ORC investigative team will address two primary goals: minimizing the chances of losing the target and reducing the possibility of detection. Surveillance cannot be accomplished without a team of three to six vehicles, frequent switches of the vehicles following the subject, proper use of shade vehicles, and safe “eye” locations. The rest of the team must be positioned properly to continue the follow out of the area. Also required are discreet foot surveillance and the use of props by the operative doing “the acting.”
The sophisticated thief of today is well aware of surveillance and is on the lookout for the follow on a daily basis. He will exercise counter-surveillance methods and employ lookouts while inside your store. This is all the more reason for the need for proper training and addressing these scenarios within the practical training portion of any course. I have worked the most suspicious criminals and with a properly trained team, we have gone undetected while watching a bank robbery in progress, a murderer returning to the crime scene, and a terrorist in the process of his extortion. They all had no idea that a properly trained surveillance team was watching their every move.
Additionally, I have worked projects with organized shoplifters who employed lookouts. We were able to watch them hide stock in their empty bags and stack linen under the baby in the stroller. We also used a “black light” spray to mark their stolen stock in their cars while they returned into the store for more. None of this could have been accomplished without a top-notch surveillance team. All of the surveillance techniques are the same, whether following a major thief or a homicide suspect.
The ability to blend in at all times, remain calm, and avoid attracting attention to yourself is essential. These can be acquired skills, and the training will correct any improper behavior. Anyone can follow a subject, but to do it professionally, unnoticed, and as a team will reap the benefits with a successful surveillance project. Team surveillance, built on proven law enforcement strategies and skills, is the newest tool in the ORC investigator’s toolbox.
This article was originally published in 2011 and was updated November 3, 2016.