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A PI’s Point of View: The Difference Between Urban and Rural Surveillance

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A licensed private investigator in Ontario will have received training in surveillance. A good private investigator in Ontario will know and understand that when it comes to surveillance they need to modify their approach when it comes to urban and rural areas.

Ultimately, a private investigator must have a good understanding of the area they will need to work in. Otherwise, they risk getting caught by the suspect he or she is observing. The moment the suspect believes he or she is being followed or watched, they will change their behaviour. A mistake like that can end the case in the blink of an eye.

So, What’s the difference?

When it comes to rural and urban spaces, there is a significant difference. These differences need to come under consideration when a private investigator is planning out their surveillance.

Rural areas typically fall outside of cities. The population is much smaller, as is the number of buildings. Some people also call rural areas, the countryside because there is generally much more land available compared to urban areas.

Urban spaces describe cities and spaces with a lot of development. It encompasses areas with commercial buildings, suburbs, railways, bridges and developed roads. Urban areas also have a large population of people living in the area.

As you can see, when you compare rural areas to urban areas the differences become a little clearer. But let’s take a more in-depth look at the specific difference that a private investigator needs to accommodate and think through before they conduct surveillance in either area.

Rural Environments & Surveillance

The biggest difference between rural and urban areas is that everything is much more spread out in a rural environment. There can be several miles between houses. So, someone conducting surveillance might stick out like a sore thumb in the following ways:

Fewer Vehicles

Due to the distance between houses, and the fact that people are more likely to know one another, a strange car will seem much more out of place in rural areas. A private investigator will need to really make sure that they choose a vehicle that blends into the area—so a flashy convertible is definitely a no go.

Private Property

Rural areas have a higher number of areas that are private property. This means that a private investigator can’t just park their vehicle in a field behind some trees and hope for the best. Chances are, they’ve parked on someone’s property and the surveillance mission will end before it even started.

A private investigator will need to use their skill and training to determine the best location to set up their surveillance. Otherwise, the suspect might end up calling the cops!

Better Technology

For rural surveillance, it is imperative that a private investigator use the latest and greatest in tools and technology. The reason for this is because a private investigator can’t simply park across the street from the suspect’s house. It’s much too obvious. Not only that, but houses and buildings in rural areas are typically found farther back from the road. Therefore, a private investigator must have an exceptional camera, and other various tools that allow him or her to keep an eye on the suspect at all times, and from a distance.

Send in a Team

It is also much more common to use a team of private investigators with rural surveillance. The reason why has to do with the fact that everything in a rural area is much more spread out. If the suspect leaves home or their place of work, it becomes obvious quite quickly if the private investigator begins to follow him or her. It is a much better solution to have multiple private investigators manning different checkpoints as to prevent the suspect from catching on.

When working with a team, it becomes critical for the private investigators to work together as a unit. Typically the team will develop signals to help alert others when the suspect is on the move.

Planning and Preparation

Both rural and urban surveillance requires planning and preparation. It is never a good idea for a private investigator to go into a situation where they have not at least surveyed the area. When it comes to rural surveillance, however, a private investigator will want to put in a lot more time and effort into planning and preparation.

Quite often, this requires the private investigator to study a map of the area. This will help them to pinpoint areas to park as well as identify areas with private property, etc. The private investigator will also need to coordinate with their team and develop an actual plan for how they will conduct surveillance and where.

Urban Environments & Surveillance

Urban areas make it a little bit easier for a private investigator to conduct surveillance. The reasons why include some of the following:

Solo Surveillance

For the most part, it is much easier to conduct surveillance in an urban environment. A private investigator can park in a car near the suspect’s house without drawing much attention. In most neighbourhoods, plenty of cars come and go all the time.

Crowd Control

At the same time, a private investigator needs to consider where their suspect might go during the day or night. While it is easier to track an individual solo in an urban area, if it’s rush hour in a really busy city, it becomes much more difficult to keep an eye on him or her. Therefore, a private investigator needs to know the limits of their abilities and call in for backup when necessary.

Pre-Surveillance Planning

In an urban area, a private investigator will need to do some pre-surveillance planning. The extent of the planning however, isn’t as detailed as rural surveillance planning. For example, a private investigator should simply go to the urban area before the actual mission starts to scope out the best areas to park. That way, when he or she arrives on the scene, they can park quickly instead of driving around the block too many times.

A Cell Phone Will Do

In urban areas, it is much easier for a private investigator to act like a tourist. Now, what’s the best part about being a tourist? It is possible to take pictures with a cell phone! The majority of people have cell phones now with great camera features. A private investigator that pulls out their cell phone to take a photo is simply going to blend in with the crowd.  They do not need extremely fancy equipment like they would in a rural surveillance situation.

Adapt to the Situation

Overall, a good private investigator must know how to handle a surveillance case whether it’s in a rural or urban area. Even then, something might happen where the investigator must come up with a quick solution. Even the best prepared private investigators can find themselves having to adapt to the situation.

At the very least, the best private investigators know and understand the person they need to observe, where that person might go, and what that person might do during their day. A private investigator must also work within the law, as he or she does not want to get caught. A private investigator’s primary goal is to provide impartial information back to their client and he or she can’t do that if someone calls the cops.

Do you require surveillance in an urban or rural area? We provide service in the GTA, Ottawa, Northern and Western Ontario. Give us a call today for more details. Email: or Phone: (647) 479-8474.

About the Author

Whitney Joy Smith

Founder of The Smith Investigation Agency in 2014, Whitney Joy Smith’s extensive background as a private investigator is matched only by her passion for the role. A graduate of several respected institutions, including Northwest Florida State College and George Brown College, her early years in life were spent between Canada and the United States. This education, along with her formative years as a private investigator in various agencies, informed much of her knowledge of private investigative laws, regulations, and operating standards in both countries.

The recipient of numerous industry awards and accolades, including the Consumers Choice Award, Best in Ottawa, and many others, Whitney takes pride in working closely with her ever-growing agency to raise the bar, maintain compliance, and meet the investigative needs of clients. Whitney is active in various membership and supporting roles, including the CPIRC, CBN, CAPI, Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce, and many others. Her experience-driven, thought-provoking articles have been featured in everything from Readers Digest to Business News Daily, and she strives to continually redefine standards for those in the private investigative and security fields. Learn more about Whitney and the team at The Smith Investigation Agency today.

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