Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Art of Going Grey - Part Three: The Vehicle

In this, our third installment on the Art of Going Grey, we'll look at vehicles. Previously, we had talked about greyness pertaining to the individual and the team, respectively.

While there are a few general rules of thumb in regards to greyness and the surveillance vehicle that will always apply, there are also (at least) two very specific rules to consider.

General Theory of Greyness

Essentially, the same principles pertaining to an individual team member apply to your vehicles as well. Avoid:

  • Scratches, scrapes, or damaged bodywork
  • Broken or non-working lights
  • Bright colours. Or black.
  • Excessively dirty or muddy exterior
  • Excessive tinting on windows (a fully blacked-out SUV just screams LOOK AT ME...)
  • Bumper stickers, artwork, markings and logos
  • Personalised number plates
  • Vehicle-mounted comms antennae (you can use the covert window-mounted ones if necessary)
  • Clutter on dash (particularly maps, case-file photographs, surveillance equipment etc)
  • Visible surveillance equipment (comms, cameras etc)
  • Same make/model vehicle as used by plain-clothed local law enforcement
You want your vehicle to be as unremarkable and unobtrusive as you are. Eminently forgettable.

Grey? Or nay?
The photograph, above, is from an interesting photo essay on bounty hunters and bail bondsmen in Business Insider. The caption reads:

Bounty hunters spend most of their time staking out houses, talking with neighbours and relatives, and going door-to-door to ask people if they've seen the defendant. 'It's a very long process to find the defendants,' says Vannucci.

Not to be the contrarian, but I wonder if they would have a greater success rate if they didn't actually look like they were, in fact, staking out houses? What that photograph suggests to me is that the occupants of the vehicle are waiting, and have been doing so for some time. People in the neighbourhood could not help but notice the same - and people talk.

Remember, it's not just the subject whose attention you wish to avoid, but also that from Third Parties!

The Vehicle Should Suit the Environment

The first specific rule of greyness and the vehicle is that your choice of vehicle should also take into account the environment in which you will be conducting the surveillance operation. If your Subject resides in an upmarket residential neighbourhood, your choice of vehicle might be different than if he resides in an inner-city slum.

Perhaps that Audi A8 is an excellent choice when your Subject is in Monaco. 

Not so much if in London's East End.

This rule is further complicated when taking into account the Subject's expected movements.  Will your choice of vehicle still be inconspicuous if the Subject travels downtown or to some other location?

In reality, we don't generally have much luxury of choice and usually settle for a compromise of sorts and hope for the best.

The Surveillance Operators Should Suit the Vehicle

The second specific rule of greyness and the vehicle is that the occupants should suit the vehicle. If your surveillance vehicle is an upmarket sedan, don't dress like a hobo. Conversely, a man in a suit driving a junker also is a poor fit. 

However, most of the time we seek a middle-ground in terms of vehicle and dress but there might be occasions when either end of the spectrum is going to be appropriate.

The Surveillance Fleet

Lastly, and hopefully considering that you are operating in a team with multiple vehicles, avoid uniformity in vehicle choice. Different makes and models are the ideal.

Well, that pretty much concludes this short series on the Art of Going Grey although it is probably a subject that I will revisit from time to time.

Feel free to add any comments or advice below.


  1. Thank you for the series. It was a pleasure to read.