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From the Investigator: Sherlock’s Most Unique Cases – Sean

March 14th, 2019

Sherlock Investigation’s Most Unique Cases

With one year at Sherlock Investigations, Sean Taig is a newcomer to the field of private investigations. Sean is currently pursuing a degree in Criminal Justice through Schoolcraft College. As an avid reader and a Wall Street enthusiast, Sean begins each day indulging in business newsletters. His favorite film is “Interstellar” by director Christopher Nolan, whom he considers a visionary in the film industry. This series aims to address the unique circumstances that Private Investigators run into, as well as the impressionable outcomes that many of our cases hold. Let’s get to know our second interviewee, Sean, a little more!

How did you get into surveillance?

Surveillance and investigative work have always been a big interest of mine. For as long as I can remember, I have been doing puzzles, trying to solve riddles, and as I grew older I became very interested in the crime scene style T.V. shows. Given these things I thought it would be a good decision to choose a career in investigative work, so here I am!

What is your opinion of the career now versus what you used to think the job entailed? How does your view differ from the public view of the job?

There are many different surveillance opportunities out there and I’m sure they all offer a variety of different experiences. Before I began working with Sherlock Investigations I already had a pretty good idea of what to expect due to the fact that someone close to me was in the field already. I used to think that the job was going to offer nothing but fun and intrigue. I quickly learned that it can also be extremely frustrating at times. For instance, when you’re conducting mobile surveillance and circumstances outside your control keep getting in your way. Such as: changing lights, slow drivers, being cut off by other drivers, and heavy traffic that causes you to lose your claimant. All things considered, a career in surveillance is an excellent one.

Often, when I tell people that I am a private investigator, they get super excited and they think of stakeouts and trench coats. A response I get frequently is “that’s so cool” or “that’s so interesting”, and while they aren’t wrong, people often don’t think about the reality of it all – which is sitting around waiting for something to happen! There are some days where you can sit at a location for a full eight hours with no activity and others where the claimant is active when you arrive! So yes, there are going to be boring times but when the good is good, it’s real good!

Are there any cases you worked on, that come to mind as very “unique “? Why is that?

Occasionally we will work cases where we have to track packages of fraudulently purchased goods. In my opinion those are my favorite and most unique cases. In most cases, you wait for the package(s) to be delivered and then it’s go time! After that it’s non-stop moving and tracking, working with other investigators and occasionally the local police to stay on top of it. Needless to say, these types of cases are very exciting.

What is one of your most successful “wins” as an investigator? A case where you made a positive difference in outcome.

During the summer I had a case where the claimant admitted to having multiple different back issues. Per these issues, the claimant was not supposed to be able to stand, walk or run for long periods of time. Well unlucky for them, I was able to obtain video footage of the claimant on their front porch doing some pretty extreme stretching. The type of stretching you would most definitely not be able to do with these kinds of claims. THEN, they went for a run! And where did they run to you ask? The gym! Unfortunately, I was not made aware of the continuing status of this case, but I would like to think that my video footage was a done deal and a case closer!

What is your advice for other or aspiring investigators?

I personally beat myself up A LOT if I am unfortunate enough to lose a claimant. One thing you must understand if you are working this job is that there are so many things outside of your control that work against you when conducting mobile surveillance. Yes, it’s a terrible feeling when you lose somebody but sometimes there is nothing you can safely do. It is always better to let them go and pick them up later or try again another day than to stay tight on their rear and have them catch on to you. All you can do is to do your absolute best, and at the end of the day if you can look back and say honestly that you gave it your all – that’s what is important.

What is your advice for our clients or potential clients on expectations for each case?

With Sherlock Investigations, you are going to get the best product possible. We pride ourselves in providing quality with the circumstances and information we are provided. We are taught to work as if the client is sitting in our passenger seat. Not only does that hold us personally accountable but we hold each other accountable by the same standard. We have a system here and we are not afraid to call each other out if in fact something is out of line. Bottom line is simply that Sherlock Investigations will strive for a high-quality product at a reasonable price.

Last Month in Surveillance

March 9th, 2019

February was a funny month for attempting to proactively schedule surveillance efforts.  Blowing snow in the early morning sent me home before I even ventured more than 15 miles from Brighton, TWICE!!  We saw 50 degrees once, or twice, but with that came rain.  These factors kept claimant activity rate, collectively, from rising all that far above what we consider to be average for this time of year.  But, don’t fret…the war stories continue…

One case, in particular, took us right into the center of Michigan where our claimant disclosed at her IME that she can no longer function normally, due to injuries sustained from a recent near slip and fall accident at work.  Fair enough…I guess.  I mean, I can’t even count the number of times I did slip and fall on my ass this past month NOT including the vast number of NEAR slip and falls, but I digress…  So, what does normal functionality really mean in this case?  Well, her admission of being unable to drive herself anywhere anymore got the attention of her employer and hence our presence.  Surveillance on day one saw the claimant walk properly to her SUV, enter the vehicle and depart the area, driving like she had someplace to be.  Surveillance on day two was interesting.  She was picked up by a relative to go to treatment AND ambulated in such a manner that I couldn’t help but chuckle, even if just in my head.  Day three looked much like day one of surveillance, following the claimant as she drove herself to three different locations and day four looked just like day two; another treatment day, another dog and pony show.  We’re not quite done with this case file and maybe we’ll even revisit the final findings next month.

Now, let’s venture over to the east side of the state.  Multiple injuries to this claimant have kept him from going back to work, in addition to really doing anything even close to active.  Okay, he got the benefit of the doubt, but just to be proactive our client decided a quick peek-a-boo into his day-to-day activities might be beneficial to solidify his claim…or otherwise…  A few days of stationary surveillance was set up to monitor the activity level at the claimant’s residence.  And, something interesting appeared on video…somebody left the home at very early morning hours on all three days!  Ok, so what?  Well, it happened to be the claimant’s vehicle that left…ALL three days!  Yeah, yeah, yeah…it could have been his wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, whoever…good point.  But, the footage proved even more interesting when it was the claimant returning home in the same vehicle, 12-13 hours later, just before dark…ALL three days!  With those findings, manned surveillance followed.  And followed we did!  Right to the claimant’s new apparent place of employment!  I say “appeared” only because I have not seen the final report findings on this one yet, but I can only imagine that a simple employment screening/verification has been completed.

One more “quickie”, again, from the east side.  A male claimant has injured himself and can no longer work.  I know, we’ve heard this one somewhere before…  Two out of three days of surveillance found the claimant taking a nice drive over to another residence in a nice neighborhood, probably just there to visit a relative or something probably, right?  WRONG!!  Well, not unless he was just there, on multiple occasions to carry in a step ladder, extension pole, tarp, hammer and other tools just to drop off for someone there to borrow…  And then stay for extended periods of time, maybe to simply demonstrate how those tools all work properly???  That would be my argument in his shoes, I guess.

February picked up right where January left off in the insurance world regarding dishonesty and potential fraud.

Until next month….

From the Investigator: Sherlock’s Most Unique Cases – Samantha

March 7th, 2019

Investigator of the Year, Samantha CastilloAfter two years with our company, Samantha Castillo has had a good sampling of what field work as a Private Investigator can offer. Samantha came to us from the Detroit Police Department after working as a Crime Analyst, and is an alumnus of Central Michigan University and Michigan State University. Her transfer from the public to the private sector has been benefited her work in many ways, and she continues to learn and adapt with every new challenge this industry brings. This series aims to address the most unique cases that Private Investigators run into, as well as the impressionable outcomes that many of our cases hold. Let’s get to know our first interviewee, Samantha, a little better!

1. How did you get into surveillance?

I was looking for an opportunity to do more boots-on-the-ground type of work. Coming from a background that involved a lot of research, data and computer time – I found myself wanting to expand my skills set to include real world applicability. It was about two years ago that I decided to pursue private investigations and I have not regretted it one bit. Sometimes a change of scenery can help you grow as a person.

2. What is your opinion of the career now versus what you used to think the job entailed? How does your view differ from the public view of the job?

There is definitely a level of technicality that I was not expecting. The amount of precision that goes into camera work, human interaction and report writing is substantial. It takes a considerable amount of time to learn how to do this job satisfactorily. Many people think that they can do this job, but the truth is that it is not for everyone. Previously, I believed that the job would require little to no energy, but honestly you need a special kind of stamina in order to do this. I don’t think you know that you have that special thing, until you actually perform the job in real time.

3. Are there any cases you worked on, that come to mind as very “unique “? Why is that?

Yes, I had a child custody case that supposedly included an element of neglect. The wife of a man with two young kids, they were both younger than 5, was convinced that her soon to be ex-husband was not taking care of the children when they were in his custody; she claimed that they were always hungry, dirty or hurt when they were returned home. While following this man, I was sure that I would see some unsavory behavior all day. Turns out they were hungry, dirty and hurt because he kept them busy all day long with swimming, baseball, etc. They were definitely fed, and he even bought groceries – which did not include any junk food. At one point I witnessed him run full speed to grab the youngest child from running into traffic. This was unique in my mind because many people assume that just because we are following someone, that they are assumed to be guilty.

4. What is one of your most successful “wins” as an investigator? A case where you made a positive difference in outcome.

Like I previously stated, we cannot assume anyone is guilty. We can only report back what we observed, even if it is not what our client is expecting to happen. The case with the two young children would be a win in my eyes, as we did not find any positive signs of abuse or neglect. As investigators, we need to celebrate a lack of evidence, especially in those types of cases.

5. What is your advice for other or aspiring investigators?

My biggest advice would be to ask yourself if you are a “people person”. It may be surprising, but the amount of general public, law enforcement, subjects and even clients that you come in contact with on this job are relatively high. Keeping your cool and being able to read another person is vital.

6. What is your advice for our clients or potential clients on expectations for each case?

You cannot expect any one particular outcome. The most efficient way to gauge someone’s behavior is by establishing a pattern; this can take days or even weeks depending on someone’s level of activity. Patience is needed if success is wanted!

Last month in surveillance…

February 28th, 2019

As we all know, January started off relatively mild in regard to the weather.  This kept claimant activity rate, collectively, from falling too far under what we consider to be average.  Many cases followed a claimant’s typical routine, however tailored to that individual’s lifestyle.

One surveillance case in particular took us into the thumb where our claimant disclosed that he can no longer work at his collision shop, due to injuries sustained from a recent auto accident.  Fair enough.  Those suck.  Been there!  On top of his injury claim, and now wage loss, he had to continue to thicken his imaginary payout and claim that not only could he not work, but the shop was, in fact, completely closed since the accident, causing a total business income loss!  So, just to run a quick check and balance on the “facts” of the case, we set up a stationary surveillance camera to watch an empty mechanic shop for days on end, right???  WRONG!!  Not only was the shop open from 9:30 A.M. – 4:30 P.M. everyday we collected video, but the claimant was the one to unlock the door in the morning and lock the door in the evening, with no signs of any other employees on site!  Now, because I’m of the curious sort, I not only followed up with manned surveillance to strengthen our fact findings, but even ended our investigative efforts with the claimant assisting my collision needs on my own vehicle and coming up with a quote for me to give some consideration to.

Last month in surveillance...

Now enter “Snowzilla” and that God awful “polar vortex” experienced near the end of January… Both situations shut down more than just secondary roadways and public schools and probably should have shut down surveillance efforts due to the shut down of any claimant activity, right?  WRONG AGAIN!!  I made the treacherous trip up to Saginaw, on both occasions, to test the theory that life must go on, regardless of the elements.  And…it paid off!!  Up north, we had a claimant that disclosed, due to his injuries, he could no longer get around and had to take a break from walking approximately 100 feet.  Day one, in the middle of the gigantic snow storm, the claimant decided that he should walk around the driveway, brush all the snow from his vehicle and then travel into town to do a little shopping.  I didn’t see any breaks in his 100+ foot commutes… On day three, during a mad drop below zero, the claimant was observed outside shoveling snow up and down the street, along the sidewalk, in front of his home.  No breaks in activity here either, but in his defense, he was only outside for ten minutes…what a trooper!

Mild weather has re-entered the tail end of January into February.  I ended this mini era with your basic 24/7 attended care case in the St. Clair area.  These, in most cases, tend to be pretty boring days with all observations made from one parked location, documenting all the comings and goings of those providing, or not providing, the services.  On said date, this one began to follow the standard aforementioned routine of most A/C cases.  BUT!  Lo and behold, the claimant left!  Now, she was supervised, but not with one of the two listed providers.  How big of a deal was this?!  I really don’t know actually, but the three hours and fifteen minutes of mobile surveillance away from the claimant’s residence on an attended care case…sorry, but I was excited about it!  The wee little mind of a surveillance investigator, right?

January doesn’t typically give the feel of being a really great month for surveillance activity.  To those skeptics, start back at the top…

Until next month….

Surveillance Investigation Mishaps

February 21st, 2019

For the most part, a day of a surveillance investigation goes without any incidents.  However, there are days when something goes horribly wrong.  Last week, I experienced a mishap that literally compromised an entire day of my surveillance investigation.  The mishap was definitely not a rookie mistake, as I have approximately two decades of surveillance experience.  I try to always head out to a surveillance investigation properly prepared (extra camera / battery, full tank of gas, food, water, clothing, etc).  Sometimes, situations are just out of our control, even for a well-seasoned investigator like myself.

This particular surveillance investigation began like any other.  I was prepared and arrived on time to the claimant’s medical appointment.  As I was canvassing the parking lot area, my vehicle simply shut off and then slowly rolled to a stop.  Of course, I was nowhere near the entrances / exits of the building, which meant I could not determine if/when/how the claimant arrived to the appointment.  After the initial panic, I regrouped and managed to get my vehicle started with a jump start from a generous citizen.  However, after traveling approximately ten feet, my vehicle shut off again.  No worries right, because I carry jumper cables and a 500 Amp jump pack in my trunk for situations like these.  A dead battery won’t keep me down.  However, keeping a long story short, it was an alternator issue.  Something entirely out of my control.  Unfortunately, I don’t carry an extra alternator, vehicle hoist and mechanic in my trunk too.  So, at that time, a second investigator was dispatched to my location to take over the surveillance investigation.  That’s the great part about working with a strong team and a lot of bench strength to rely on.

As I rode to the repair shop in the tow truck, with my dead vehicle strapped onboard, my mind wandered.  I felt several emotions.  I felt bad for my colleagues who had to hustle to cover for me in the field, perturbed about my vehicle, nervous about the repair expense and very embarrassed about the whole situation. I, like any surveillance expert, never want to disappoint a client or appear unprepared.  However, I kept reminding myself that situations like these are simply out of our control.  So, after paying nearly $700 for a new alternator, I recalled an old saying…..sh*t happens, no matter how well prepared and experienced you are.  Until next time, stay safe and alert out there.

Surveillance investigation mishap

Psychological Injury Claims

February 14th, 2019

Investigating psychological injury claims may appear to be a difficult task when comparing to an individual who has made injury claims.  A Psychological injury claim can include everything from someone who has made claims of memory loss, a traumatic brain injury that results in the function or the performance of an individual.  As professionals, we are attempting to either verify or disprove these claims, which are much tougher then looking for physical illness.  Despite the barriers, the big differentiator is conducting human intelligence, where investigators make discreet contact with individuals who have known the subject before the claims and most importantly afterwards.  Inquiring about the functionality of someone before and after their psychological injury claims can answer several questions.  Certain topics that our investigators will consider are schooling; is their performance decreasing? or even playing sports; how productive are they while playing their sport after the fact? These are the answers that can be telling on how legitimate or credible someone is when making a claim like this.

 Leave investigating psychological injury claims to the experts

As professionals in this industry, we have broadened our horizon from just physical claims and have investigated far more serious things, such as psychological injury claims.  This is not the first time we have dealt with such claims and when we do we are highly knowledgeable in how to proceed with them.  Not to mention, these claims reach as far as how active individuals are with their social media platforms and what the state of their web presence is when making the claim. There are several factors that we as professionals look into and most importantly thoroughly investigate with due diligence. If you need assistance investigating a psychological injury claim, contact the experts at Sherlock Investigations – (855) 989-2500!

Independent Medical Exams and Video Surveillance

February 7th, 2019

IME can assist in video surveillance


Whether it is worth running video surveillance on the day of an Independent Medical Exam (IME) or similar event is usually a subject of debate. There are a few important things that can be determined from them, but most importantly it all comes down to the purpose of the investigation. A scheduled appointment provides opportunities to see things in a light that you may not be able to get on any other day.

If there is still a question on where an individual is currently residing, these appointments provide the investigator a rare tool of knowing exactly when and where a subject is going to be. Locating them at this appointment, and then conducting the follow after help to set up every day to come. Medical mileage numbers, care / service providers, and transportation company billing can all be a big help to an investigator too, as there are a number of methods a “ghost” may actually use to show up for the appointment.

If the question is more the legitimacy of the injury and how the subject presents themselves, the IME allows an opportunity to conduct video surveillance on the subject in two lights on the same day; normal daily activity and also the presentation at the IME. It would by no means be unheard of for the investigator to do video surveillance showing a day in which a subject went to work, took kids to school, did grocery shopping, drove themselves around for the day, but then at the same time also required transportation service or momentarily produced a cane or other medical assistive device that is absent the rest of the day.

Provided the subject decides to actually show for the IME and not skip / cancel at the last moment, it’s also a reliable day for guaranteed activity. In some situations, there may not be available budget to run 3 or more days of video surveillance to target a specific claim, so utilizing the first day as one of these appointments can be valuable in terms of getting immediate eyes on a subject and evaluating additional time.

In the end, there is not really anything that can be gathered on an IME date that cannot be seen any other time. They are useful days for guaranteed activity, provided the subject decides they actually want to appear, and the dichotomy between the presentation at the appearance and the remainder of the day can be quite intriguing. If you have an upcoming appointment for one of your subjects and would be interested in us performing video surveillance for you, contact us today! We would be glad to assist.

What it’s like to be a Female Investigator?

February 1st, 2019

Working as an investigator and conducting surveillance for over a decade, one would imagine all the stories you can add to your mental notes to ponder around a bonfire one day.  Working years in the state and federal government, then converting over to the private sector utilizing video cameras to conduct investigations has enhanced my skills. Can working for those various elements as an investigator give you a huge insight on things to expect while working in the field? Yes… I think, right? Well, I am here to tell you, just when you think you’ve seen it all…. try doing all of this being a female investigator!

My disclaimer: I am not saying any male investigator is less interesting, better or worse than any female investigator. What I would like to point out is the mere challenges, discretion, video surveillance and extraordinary circumstances that may allow women to appreciate the overcoming obstacles and tips from working in surveillance.  I am asked many questions from various people when they find out where I work and/or my expertise. A few of the common reactions: “I would’ve never expected you to work in that field” or “you do not look like you work as an investigator” and even “I need you to video spy on my boyfriend”. I would assume they may refer to the thought of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones characters in the 1997 movie Men in Black, all black suits with dark glasses and erasing people’s memory of their alien friends in action. Well, I can’t compete with all that funny entertainment or with a list of policies when a routine circumstance arises.

There is nothing routine about working video surveillance! After completing a detective school for law enforcement surveillance, I found that the tips given to make surveillance more convenient did not include a section dedicated for a female investigator. Again, not a male basher at all, I began my career with male trainers. However, video surveillance may involve long hours, a variance in the environment, satisfying curious or paranoid people, undercover roles, etc. With experience in surveillance, I’ve learned a few tips for survival out in the field and love to pass along things I have overcome, big or small.

What it's like to be a female investigator

I am sure many investigators may relate to the common obstacles working out in the field and can share experiences like mine. But, dealing with men out in the field has made the pattern of “thinking outside of the box” unique for me as a female investigator. One nice afternoon as I recorded video footage for a case, a neighbor and his buddies came outside sitting around on the porch and looked my way several times. As my wheels began to turn on how I will respond to them — because I know it’s coming — I checked all my mirrors again, surrounding environment, GPS map of the area, placement/coverup of my video surveillance equipment, and prepared for anything.  One on the guys, that appeared to be the leader of the group — by displaying a cocky stance on the sidewalk with his chest poking out — walked toward my vehicle wobbling side-to-side like he was a penguin and grabbing the groin part of his pant, arrived at my driver’s window to initiate a conversation.  I politely greeted him with a smile, he smiled back, tucked his chest back in while looking toward his buddies and giving them the signal of approval for me being there. After listening to his story of being a rapper, knowing celebrities, and inviting me to meet his friends at his house, I politely declined, gave him a quick story to satisfy my existence in the area and was thankful I didn’t have to stay much longer afterward. The engaging, yet annoying conversation with him helped my cover in the area. I did not look suspicious, threatening, and I appeared be visiting the guy at my window whom claimed he knew everyone in the neighborhood.  It was torture pretending I knew the local rappers he bragged about and him insisting I be a model in his upcoming music videos; all while I had the least amount of eye contact with him in order to maintain my cover, and highly alert for any changes at the house I watched. Finally, I got him to buzz off after a few moments and he didn’t bother me any further.  Afterwards, I had thoughts of wishing I had eaten a burger full of onions for lunch, used pieces of aluminum foil to pretend I had white gold or platinum teeth, or even stepped in my dogs’ poop before work and had the aroma emanating from my car window.  Oh, the stories… and the videos to prove some laughs.

Preparing a cover story or two for use during surveillance in a residential area may make or break a case. Evaluating the totality of circumstances, the demeanor of you/the curious neighbor and the direction of a conversation (or cover) helps to quickly eliminate obstacles to maintain integrity of the surveillance. My years of experience and skill set is embraced by my bosses. It leaves me to do what I am good at and ensures a great service to satisfy clients. Priceless…

Check out the company’s website at www.claimspi.com for more information on how we can be of service to you. Also remember, if it didn’t happen on video, it never happened.

Conducting Surveillance in Seasonal Elements

January 24th, 2019

There is a misconception out there that conducting surveillance is “seasonal” operation. Just because its cold, or rainy, or snowing… people’s lives don’t stop. Groceries still need to be bought, kids still need to get to school, people still need to go to work, and chores still need to be done. Every claim is unique, because every person is unique. Their schedule is theirs, and is built upon family, pets, work, and other responsibilities. 

The real skill lies in determining these patterns of life. Whether through the use of various background checks, social media and internet profile investigations, or the use of stationary surveillance, there are a number of methods in learning and determining those patterns. Those background investigations can help you learn more about where a person has been, the people they have lived with, the vehicles they have owned, and get a well-developed picture of who this person is. In a lot of cases the background investigation is the backbone of how the surveillance is planned.

It’s amazing that so many people still put so much out there on social media. Whether that is regularly checking in at their favorite restaurant every Sunday morning, leaving their geotagging on when taking a selfie and uploading it from the gym locker room, just talking about when and where they are going to be next Saturday morning or talking about their child’s sport schedule and when/where the games are going to be. They’re not things people really take a second to even think about, but when the goal is to locate, observe, and document the daily activities of a given person, its certainly impressive what can be found when you know where to look.

One tool that is becoming increasingly more common, is the implementation of stationary surveillance. A camera can be placed in a give location that can records twenty-four hours consecutively for 2-3-4 or more days depending on the situation. If there is a question as to whether anyone lives at a home, or if the claimed care is even being conducted, that camera is a good method to learn what is actually happening there. It’s also reasonably successful at showing patterns and routines over a certain amount of time and can be super helpful to investigators in determining what day and time to be at a location to start conducting surveillance.

The biggest takeaway from these, is that none of them are seasonally dependent. It doesn’t matter if it’s a sunny summer day, a rainy spring afternoon, or winter morning where you may or may not have a driveway to shovel; lives don’t stop, and daily routines continue. If you have concerns regarding a claim or claimant, whether it be a person’s activity level or more related to the care they are receiving, don’t let the season dissuade you from investigating. We have all the resources necessary at our disposal to dig into things for you and help you get the answers you are looking for.

Surveillance Teams and the Battle Hand-Off

January 14th, 2019

Usually in the Military there are not many stand-alone operations (operations that have nothing to do with any other mission). Most missions are a part of something larger that is always trying to be tracked and directed. For instance, your mission may be to transport water to and from a combat zone, but the purpose of your mission is not transporting the water, it is to keep your comrades in the combat zone hydrated. This, like many operational environments can easily be related to surveillance. While working on a surveillance team, you may have the “mission” to check out a few houses, find some license plates, locate a person, document an area, etc. However, those tasks, like delivering water, are not stand-alone missions… and technically speaking, those are reconnaissance tasks, not surveillance.

Surveillance is the act of generating a report based on the reconnaissance operations that were conducted in support of the larger scope of intelligence gathering. Getting back on topic, the reason that surveillance teams were originally broken into rotations was so that a smaller force could surveille a larger force without much support i.e. four soldiers could watch four thousand people on a six-hour rotation. The immediate issue that arose with rotating shifts of dislocated, observation teams was continuity of information. And so, I have finally, finally reached the thesis of my blog: Surveillance Teams and the Battle Hand-off.

Surveillance team

I’m not sure what the continuity of readers is like for my blogs, so: to quickly introduce myself, I will go by JJH for the purposes of this blog. I am a nine-year Army Combat Vet who spent the entirety of his time in the Army as a Forward Observer. In my twilight years (2014-2017) I spent the majority of my time traveling around the U.S and sometimes Europe teaching, coaching, training and mentoring local and foreign militaries / governments to do what I do. It sounds cooler than it was, mostly I just tried to keep officers with 10 minutes of experience from putting out bad information.

The Battle Hand-off is easily one of the most important parts of reconnaissance (recon). Even if, by some luck of the draw, you get to go out on a stand-alone recon mission. You would still write up a report (surveillance) that gets dissected and applied anywhere, in anyway it can be e.g. people involved, geography, cultural stability, time, duration, weather, population density etc. That way there’s a continuity of information that can be built upon in order to maximize efficiency. The manner in which you choose to report is entirely up to the two entities (whether it be a person or a team) that relieve each other. Most of the time, it is very informal. The purpose of it being informal, is so that no information is lost in translation. Only in two other country’s (out of 10 or so that I have worked with) armies have I ever seen the requirement that an informal battle hand-off be recorded (thus creating a formal, non-formal report and ripping the fabric of time and space).

In general, differing levels of required formality in reporting lead to two things: The more formal the report is, the less likely it is something critical is missed, however, it then becomes more likely that opportunities are missed due to the inability to communicate seemingly innocuous details. The inverse is also true that the less formal the report writing, the more likely it is that something critical is missed, however every team member is more likely to have a better common operating picture. Which is a cool phrase that I will use to segue into…

Common Operating Picture (COP) is the term that defines the operational awareness that everyone has of a common, or communal thing. Now I know what you must be thinking, isn’t COP already an acronym I hear every other day that describes a smaller base overseas, a ‘combat out-post’? To that I say: yes, you have. The military, in its infinite wisdom has decided to move towards simplicity and reuse acronyms. I can list about four different things that “M.R.E.” is being used for right now… but I digress.

A COP (Common Operating Picture) is a picture-puzzle that everyone from the recon team, up to the intelligence analyst officers that compile theater-wide surveillance reports, is trying to solve. Each entity involved puts their picture on a puzzle piece and they all get handed up to some general somewhere who then gives it to some private to put together and explain to him. If everyone involved in the recon/surveillance team effort was able to understand what they were doing and why, then that synchronous effort leads to a picture of dogs playing poker, or whatever. However, if everyone involved is not aware of how their piece fits in the larger puzzle, then you would probably just get a Salvador Dali painting, or something. This Common Operating Picture leads to increasing levels of overall efficiency which can build upon itself and become an outrageously effect tool. However, if there are no Battle Hand-offs, it leads to mixed signals and lost opportunities and chaos.

You see, the Battle Hand-off is really the very first form of surveillance in any recon operation. After you recon an area and collect intelligence, whoever relieves you is briefed with your informal surveillance report. If for whatever reason the information is not handed off, then not only does your relief have no idea what their walking into (operationally speaking), but your puzzle piece at the higher levels, become less and less useful. This effect cascades up-hill until eventually all the clocks are melting and no one around you has any idea what is going on… which ironically, is the opposite purpose of surveillance. I could give a hundred examples of how a seemingly insignificant detail got lost and ultimately ruined an operation, but I don’t think it takes much imagination to see my point of view… but I mean when the Scooby-Gang is running back and forth from room to room trying to find a ghost, it wouldn’t take much to just have a conversation in the hallway about the rooms they’ve already been in.

To signal the outro of this blog, I will summarize by saying that if you are involved in any form of rotating surveillance and do not have some way to build off your teammates success or failures, you are doing yourself a great disservice. Synchronicity cannot be achieved without a directed unity of effort, and Battle Hand-offs are at the root of unity of effort. When you are on a surveillance team for a long period of time and have disjointed rotations, it is easy to forget that you are a part of a team. This leads to losing the perceived worth of a Battle Hand-off because of the disconnection from the team. At that point, there is no surveillance team, just multiple individuals trying to accomplish the same thing, separately. At that point, the concept of a team even becomes a hindrance because you have introduced a dissonance from reality for those people who are now both on, and not on a team. And at that point: chaos. Nobody likes chaos; do a Battle Hand-off.

PS. The “Picture-Puzzle” of surveillance was a metaphor, they never actually let us play with puzzles.