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Physical surveillance is a form of monitoring where the subject is kept under physical observation. It can be combined with other modes of surveillance for complete coverage and may be used by law enforcement officers, as well as private investigators. This type of surveillance requires special skills and is labor intensive, as personnel must be continually rotated to provide coverage, and it may be necessary to use an array of observers to avoid attracting attention from the subject under observation.
In physical surveillance, members of a surveillance team watch and track their subject. Sometimes this is done in relatively close proximity, and in other cases, the person doing the surveillance may need to remain distant to avoid attracting attention. The surveillance team works on foot, in vehicles, and using other methods of transportation as necessary and must be highly alert, as well as flexible, to identify the movements of the subject and take appropriate actions.
Usually, the goal is to avoid alerting the subject to the presence of surveillance. In some cases, people may be aware that they are under surveillance by a security team, but the team remains concealed to avoid tipping off potential security threats. This allows people to be provided with discreet security as they go about their daily activities and can also be used in cases where a person is being used as bait to attract a criminal. The physical surveillance team provides protection for the subject and apprehends the suspects when they appear.
A number of tools are used in physical surveillance, including binoculars and telescopes, listening devices, and other specialized equipment. The members of the team may need to dress in costume to conceal themselves or blend in, and typically use unmarked, nondescript vehicles that do not stand out. This can include the of camouflaged vehicles designed to look unremarkable in a neighborhood. If someone in a relatively poor neighborhood is under physical surveillance, for example, a brand new unmarked car stands out, but an older car that looks well used and messy would fit in.
Physical surveillance can be dangerous. It can involve close contact with suspects and may put people at risk in a variety of dangerous situations. Working in teams helps, as team members can look out for each other, but sometimes a team is too obvious and it is necessary to work alone to avoid detection. Keeping an eye on communications and other activities as part of the surveillance operation can help people identify obvious risks before they happen.