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A Primer on Surveillance and Observation Skills from a Non-Mil Dude

A community submission from @Bear_Jaw on Instagram

There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter.” - Ernest Hemingway

When Hemingway wrote that, he was definitely not sitting on his 19th straight hour of near target surveillance in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains watching a suspected Meth Lab, while getting slowly eaten alive by clouds of mosquitoes, drenched in humidity, sweat and cammie cream, and all the while having to have taken a righteous dump for the last 10 hours.

I am fortunate to work a job I really enjoy. I work for a rural county Sheriff’s Office that’s attached to a Multi-Agency Narcotics Task Force that focuses on the three major food groups of poor white people: Methamphetamine, Heroin and Fentanyl. Now that sounds super cool and high speed in thought, but the reality is far from it and involves far more paperwork than door kicking. However, the one constant for this line of work? Surveillance and Body Language. I spend hours upon hours watching people, houses, cars, shops, you name it. Now to give credit to Hemingway, his version of hunting is far different than mine. Contrary to the “muh thin blue punisher skull line” crowd, Law Enforcement is in the prisoner taking business, not the burial business. With that being said, the following things I’m going to offer are going to be from a perspective of someone who spends lots of time watching people.

To start things off, why do we do surveillance? For my purposes, surveillance allows us to build a case against a defendant. What it also does though is allows us to learn about an individual or group and start to build patterns of life that are easily recognizable:

-What time do they wake up? Go to bed?

-Eat Dinner?

-What kinds of vehicles do they drive?

-Who are their friends?

-Are they married? Girlfriend?

-Do they have pets?

All of these seems like fairly non-significant things…and they are. That’s the point. What these things offer though is it provides a base line of what is “normal” for the person being monitored. Now why is that important? Its important because only when you have an understanding of “normal” behavior, will you be able to see and pick up on the “irregular” behavior. A big thing to remember when conducting surveillance is that every person on this planet has their own unique differences and practices. When you start to see both covert and overt deviations from these, well that’s what we call a “clue”.

This type of observation can be gained in a large spectrum of ways: sitting in a car with a set of binoculars while pissing in a milk jug and watching a trap house for days on end, laying down in a vegetative hide site on the side of a mountain with a spotting scope and DSLR high zoon camera lens watching a multi-kilo Heroin deal happen on the Appalachian Trail, or just monitoring social media and surveillance footage for suspected Armed Robbery suspects.

Now I understand that this may not be applicable to everyone that would read this. But for those that have a preparedness mindset, there could be a time and place for when these types of skills would be applicable, if not lifesaving. One of the best aspects of practicing surveillance is that it costs literally nothing, and it can be practiced every single place that you go and there is no negative impact that it will have on your life.

Now for the meat and potatoes of this write up: Ways to practice surveillance. Most people here are aware of a S.A.L.U.T.E. report. For those that aren’t, Size, Activity, Location, Units, Time and Equipment. This is a common military acronym that can be easily translated into the civilian side of things (I personally will always view Cops/LEO’s as civilians that dress up for “x” amount of time per day). For the civilian side I like to look at S.A.L.U.T.E. as Stature, Activity, Location, Uniform, Time and Endemics. Now this may raise some questions so I will address each individually:

-Stature: How does this person carry themselves? Are they hunched over like some Reddit lurking bugman? Or are they in full Gigachad posture? You can read a lot about a person by the way they walk, protrude themselves and their overall physical demeanor.

-Activity: Does this person’s movement fit in with the environment or location? If I’m at a Gas Station at 03:00AM and some guy is constantly watching the register while pretending to be looking for a candy bar for the last hour is a bit of an indicator that homie is casing the place for a possible robbery.

-Location: Where is the person in question? Pretty basic.

-Uniform: What are they wearing? A person’s clothing can speak a lot about that person. If you have some dude who looks like a tweaker and is wearing clothing that just screams “I stole this from a donation bin at a Thrift Store” you’re probable correct.

-Time: Is it normal for someone to even be at that location at that time? Does this person regularly do this activity/be at this location around this time?

-Endemics: This one might turn some heads as there are a few definitions to this word. The one I’m using here is “native and restricted to a certain place”. Does this person belong where he/she currently is?

An important thing to note about the above terms is that individually they are important, however, its when you combine them that they really start to paint the picture of what is “Normal” and more importantly what is “Irregular”.

Hopefully this is snippet of my writing is something that you readers have enjoyed. This is by no means a “be all-end all” writing on how to conduct Surveillance but it is something that I like to share my perspective on. Thank you for reading.


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