East Bay Private Detective Surveillance

We constantly think about our work and how to help our clients. It does us no good to take a case and not get results. The client isn’t happy and neither are we. We try to be as transparent as possible from the first contact to the last. We are writing this entry about surveillance to tell you how the process really works and to increase your/our chances of getting results.

Calculating What a San Francisco Bay Area Surveillance Costs

At first the client has to decide what’s at stake. Is the surveillance for an insurance defense investigation trying to prove fraud in a $1 million claim or for a family law case where child custody is at stake, or maybe it’s trying to get evidence of infidelity in a long-term marriage? I look at the budget commitment question as something similar to playing poker, what is referred to as pot odds. Or, use a business analogy: What is the return on investment?

The more important the situation the more resources you need to commit. If playing in a poker game and you know you have a good hand, or you know your opponent is likely to be bluffing, it makes sense to commit more to win the pot.

In the more than 20 years we have been doing this we have seen and obtained results for clients who have spent about a minimum of $2,000 and well over $10,000. We will use one, two or three licensed private investigators each with their own video surveillance equipment. The number of personnel depends on the subject. We use professional surveillance operatives who write detailed reports and who make for excellent court witnesses. We are nor farming anything out for cheap or inferior labor. In surveillance like any other service you really do get what you pay for. The hourly range for our surveillance services may range from about $125 per hour to $300 per hour. Cost depends on the number of personnel we are going to use.

The Three Ps of A Good Surveillance

  • Planning

We obtain solid evidence with good information up-front. After the client agrees to a retainer, we then meet the client in person. We need to know as much as possible about the subject. What does he drive? Where does he park? What is his driving style like? How does he wear his hair? Does he wear jewelry. We will need photos of him. We will need to know his schedule.

On a mobile subject we will need to use two or three investigators. On a suburban or stationary surveillance, one investigator might be enough for the job. Heavy traffic situations will also require more personnel. We will also use a male-female team of private investigators. Surveillance is more about blending in than not being seen.

  • Patience

We typically will not work surveillance cases on a rush basis. Flying out the door without a plan in place rarely yields good results.

If we are too aggressive in the beginning and get detected, will have to take a long break before attempting again. We are all creatures of habit. The insurance cheat or the marital cheat will make mistakes. With a patient, disciplined approach, we get results. Over time, we will figure out a subject’s habits.

It’s not the end of the world if we temporarily lose someone on surveillance. We return to our staging areas another time or find the subject at a place he frequents. Good habits allow us to get back on the trail again.

  • Persistence

On a Berkeley case it took a week or two to catch a cheating husband. The client could see on her husband’s phone he was going to a certain area. She saw that he was visiting the same area before work but not for a very long time. We went on him with one operative at first but caught him using two operatives. We had determined his habits.

The GPS the client checked on her phone was not precise. We knew he was going to an area about 200 yards long. We went to the same location three times. We caught him on the third time because we had planned, committed and anticipated his next steps. When we caught him we had two investigators in separate cars. Each parked in a separate area. We obtained video of him cheating. The results cost about a total of $2000.

California Law about Using a GPS Device

In some situations it is legal to use a GPS device. It’s always best though to consult an attorney. One gray area is where both spouses are on registration and title to a vehicle. If you solely own the vehicle but someone else–spouse, child, family, etc–is using the car then it’s likely legal.

Here is the relevant California law and a good article about GPS

637.7. (a) No person or entity in this state shall use an electronic tracking device to determine the location or movement of a person.

(b) This section shall not apply when the registered owner, lessor, or lessee of a vehicle has consented to the use of the electronic tracking device with respect to that vehicle.

(c) This section shall not apply to the lawful use of an electronic tracking device by a law enforcement agency.

(d) As used in this section, electronic tracking device means any device attached to a vehicle or other movable thing that reveals its location or movement by the transmission of electronic signals.

(e) A violation of this section is a misdemeanor.

(f) A violation of this section by a person, business, firm, company, association, partnership, or corporation licensed under Division 3 (commencing with Section 5000) of the Business and Professions Code shall constitute grounds for revocation of the license issued to that person, business, firm, company, association, partnership, or corporation, pursuant to the provisions that provide for the revocation of the license as set forth in Division 3 (commencing with Section 5000) of the Business and Professions Code.


My Work For The Lavatory Lawyer

It used to be that foot tapping just meant keeping time to a catchy tune.
But former Senator Craig of Idaho changed the connotation in his infamous 2007 arrest in the airport bathroom and subsequent guilty plea. It was as if the whole world awoke to bathroom subculture and “cruising” rituals. The senator earned the nickname “Wide Stance.”

Attorney Bruce Nickerson of San Carlos, who is openly gay, has been practicing lewd conduct criminal defense and civil cases for his clients for thirty years. Nickerson, for whom I have done investigations, told me that he offered his services to the former Republican senator but that Craig’s office would rather have inferior legal representation than hire an outspoken gay attorney.
Nickerson said that he recently beat a nearly identical case on appeal. He said that a key part of his argument is that if the conduct does not take place in front of a third person, i.e., other than the decoy cop and the subject, than it is “not offensive to the persons present.” He offers a primer on lewd conduct defense on his web site.
What I admire about Nickerson is his courage battling for a traditionally unpopular clientele, gay men charged with sex crimes. He time and again has exposed (the first of many awkard puns) police anti-gay bias, and he has won civil cases against municipalities whose police forces arrest solely on the basis of sexual orientation. My role in many of his cases, from Bakersfield to Gold Country, was to document lewd heterosexual acts in public.
Nickerson outlined many of the issues of these police decoy operations against gays in a classic dust-up with host Bill O’Reilly. He gave it right back to the host when O’Reilly asked him “if he had any proof” of lewd heterosexual conduct in public. (Mr. O’Reilly must not get out of the studio much.) He brought up his “investigators.” And oh yah, I have a shoebox of some steamy tapes that I shot. (I could sell the footage of the Fresno one…..) When you live in the Bay Area you forget that not all places are so tolerant.
So I spent a few weekends hanging out in parks with my video camera. I was a paid pervert, documenting heavy petting. Naturally, Nickerson used the footage to show that police have a double standard. Nickerson also told me that police would base these decoy operations on “public complaints.” Yet when Nickerson suboenaed police for such reports of prior complaints, lo and behold, the law enforcement agencies couldn’t find them. From a practical standpoint, I think police should use resources on more serious matters. I am a man of the world, been in a healthy cross-section of public toilets, yet have never been solicited for sex in a men’s room.
Nickerson said that he must be having an impact on governments, at least in Northern California, because he has not had any sting clients lately and therefore has not had as much need for my services.

One of my all time favorite probes for him was “the case of the replica porno booth.” It all started when his client, a successful software executive, got busted for lewd conduct at the Not Too Naughty Bookstore in conservative Livermore, California. The undercover cop wrote in his report that he had seen the man exposing himself while watching some cinema in a little booth in the store.
So the case went to trial. For the jury we made a booth of the exact dimensions. I testified that with the low light conditions in the store, angle of sight from the officer to our client’s, um, lap area, that there was no way the officer could have seen the defendant exposing himself. The jury agreed and the accused got off.

Cyber Maps Track The Auto-Theft Plague

I had one of those “only in Oakland” experiences last month. Car headlights lit up my lower hills street at midnight. I peeked out the window to see and hear an old red Toyota blocking the street, engine running. Problem was that there was no one inside the car.

My inner-paranoid ran through the scenarios: Body in trunk, shooting victim slumped in back seat, front seat full of dope, automatic weapons and cash (if only!), perp playing ‘possum waiting to blast first curious homeowner brave enough to come to car. I knew full well that it was a ditched stolen car but I still did not feel like leaving the house.

So, in the next two hours I called Oakland Police non-emergency five times. The second time I called, the dispatcher claimed an officer had come out and not been able to find the car with lights on, engine running, etc. (I figured it was just a case of inadequate staffing and not exactly a priority situations.) I gave up, went to bed, awoke seven hours later to find the same car with engine still running, still blocking the street. I called again and cops finally came to tow the car.

Auto theft intrigues me. (For the record my Oakland tallies in 14 years: two cars and one motorcycle stolen. All recovered in varying degrees of disrepair.) It’s one of those crimes that is staggeringly abundant. Just read the crime blotter section of the Montclarion or the Piedmonter to see about 30 to 35 thefts per-week for a relatively small geographic area. Oakland’s annual auto thefts were showing nice gains for a decade until 2008 when there was a dip. Keeping tabs on auto break-ins would be next to impossible since likely half of auto-burglaries are likely not reported.

There are two excellent web sites for local crime maps. The first is from the Oakland Police http://gismaps.oaklandnet.com/crimewatch/ Pick your crime category (ies) and see the tallies for up to 90 days at a time. The City also allows you to sign up for crime notification emails based on parameters you set, say within 1/4 mile of City Hall or 500-feet of a school.

The next is the entertaining Oakland Crimespotting http://oakland.crimespotting.org/crimes see little green dots all over the City representing auto thefts. I can break it down six ways to Sunday, by crime, by police beat, by time period, etc. I see that there were 67 auto thefts last week, which seems a bit low.

In my next installment you will read about four Oaklanders caught red-handed dismantling a stolen blue Honda, ratted out thanks to a Lo Jack. All four have pleaded guilty to auto theft, and all four have received no jail time but three years probation. The police caught them in the 3700 block of Lyon Avenue, where a search shows that there have been 269 reported auto thefts in the last three months within a mile of the address.