30 Years of surveillance as a private investigator


Based out of Denver, Colorado, we have been conducting surveillance investigations since 1984. With over three decades of surveillance experience, you might suspect that we have seen a few changes over the years.


 With today’s technology, private investigators have access to phones, voice mail, texts and emails, from nearly anyplace the investigation might take them. However this was not always the case.


 In the early days of surveillance investigations we were armed with Beaulieu Super 8 movie cameras.  These had approximately 3 minutes of film per roll, which meant that if the investigator was obtaining substantial film, they would continuously have to reload the camera, leaving spots in the subject’s activity that they were not able to document. After obtaining the evidence, the investigator would then have to get this film developed. In those days, an investigator out on assignment was really on their own, with no communications to anybody else. Those were the days before cell phones, before pagers etc. In order to make a phone call and investigator would have to break away from their case, locate a pay phone (try to locate one of those now), make the call and then return to their case. This was a very risky proposition as a surveillance investigator as there was always the chance that you would return to your case and your subject would be gone. Therefore you would try to limit these trips to the pay phone to only “emergency” situations. Of course, over the years some things don’t change such as your client will think they frequently have “emergency” situations, when they need to speak to you as soon as possible.


Shortly after that we were armed with pagers, but you still had the same problem of locating a pay phone and breaking away from your case, any time you were paged. Still you tried to only do this for “emergency” situations and in those days, who didn’t get a page from time to time that started with 911, followed by the number to call? This meant ASAP, but many times it was a situation that could have waited. So while technology had some advantages, it also had a down side.


 The advent of the video camera came next. This had to be wired into a full sized VCR, while you were filming. This was really a problem, when the investigator was required to get out on foot, to follow a subject. Not only did the investigator have a huge, very obvious camera, but  also had to carry a VCR in a pack, which was strapped over the investigator’s shoulder. Being a Denver, Colorado private investigator, from time to time this meant that you also had to carry this entire “package” up the ski slopes, and have this on while you are skiing behind the subject you are following. One wrong turn or bump hit wrong and you quickly learn what skiers mean by having a “yard sale” on the slope.


 Next the investigator received a technology boost, with the advent of cell phones. However, early cell phones were  affectionately referred to as the “brick phone”  because they were about the size of a  brick. These large phones also came with a large monthly bill. In those days you were only able to make calls in your “home area” without huge expenses, but go outside that area and you would get roaming charges, usually over $1.00 per minute. So while the investigator was carrying around the “brick phone” it was a good thing that the technology for cameras was becoming more convenient, with the advent of the mini-cam, which was a self contained video camera, where the videotape was inside the camera. No longer a need to carry an entire, full sized VCR.


 Compare those early years to what we have today. Every investigator has at least one cell phone, that is practically a complete computer in itself. Cameras come in many sizes, shapes and forms, all of which are much smaller than the early cameras. In the early days, who would have ever thought there would be a day, when a camera was actually inside a pen, a button, a cap or your own phone.


Today a surveillance investigator is very rarely completely out of touch with others and I am not sure that this is actually a good thing.


 Technology has made leaps and bounds and has given the modern private investigator some incredible tools, but it is always fun to reminisce about the equipment we used a “few” years back.