Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Tips for Conducting Surveillance in Rural West Virginia

Rural West Virginians are generally distrusting of strangers. This comes in part from the parental lessons teaching them to avoid strangers, the level of economic distress in remote and no longer industrialized mining towns and from the staunch beliefs in the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms. People generally have a heightened sense of awareness for their neighborhood and city and are ready to protect it against any and all threats.

Everybody Knows Everybody: This mentality is prevalent in small towns. The smaller the town, the more close the community is. Everyone is either related or friends and they smile, waive and make small talk whenever they see each other. It only takes seconds for them to realize you and your vehicle are not from there. While you cannot completely overcome this particular problem, you can at least pretend to be related to someone in the community if you absolutely must speak to locals. Select a generic name and point vaguely in the direction of their home. In all likelihood, there will be someone over that direction with that name and no one will question you much further.

Do not select a name like "John Boy," "Billy Bob," or anything else remotely reminiscent of the Hicksploitation seen on television. Real rural Appalachian people do not use these names and could be significantly offended by what they may feel is your reference to them being stupid or less than the rest of American society. Likewise, it is unlikely you will find a rural West Virginian named Mikayla or Chantelle. Stick with classic names like Julie, John, Heather or Bill.

Never Underestimate a Good Ol' Boy: Since you know all of his friends and family live close by, it is safe to assume that if he wants to play a game with you he can. He and his friends can lead you on a game of cat and mouse, changing vehicles and randomly parking one from time to time to try and throw you off. They could even gang up on you as a scare tactic and all come and box you in somewhere. They may find these kind of games fun and get a good laugh at your expense. Granted, you are getting paid to be there, so you do not want to wind up in any kind of real trouble when they take you down a side road and get you lost -- or worse.

Dressing the Part: Rural West Virginians only dress up in business wear or formal wear if they are on their way somewhere that requires it. Going to the office rarely does and there's not a lot of shindigs during typical surveillance hours. So jeans and a worn but not tattered T-shirt are your safest bet on clothing. Even collared T-shirts are not that common and should be avoided. While you will see the occasional button up shirt and tie, most of the workers are laborers or service personnel who will not wear their good clothes to work.

Equally as important, avoid torn, ripped or clothing that is heavily soiled. While they may not be wearing the latest designer duds, you will not find a rural West Virginian walking around town, shopping or even visiting friends while looking like a beggar.

Your Vehicle: Do not wash your car right before you do a job in rural West Virginia. Road dirt is a factor of life and many of the towns do not own/employ daily street sweepers. Most of the vehicles are taken off road or routinely travel down dirt or gravel driveways, especially in mountainous areas. This means a street sweeper would be a waste of money and taxpayers often do not even consider footing the bill for it. So leave your well-traveled vehicle just as it is, no matter how bad the dust looks or how many trails you have on the window from water running down them.

Driving: Never travel on roads beyond "End State Maintenance" signs. Even if you have an SUV and think you know how bad some rural mountain roads can be, your safety could be at serious risk on these roads. It is common to find boulders blocking the road, washed out patches, and deep drop-offs with no guardrails of any kind. Your GPS and cell phone are unlikely to work and you can easily become lost. If anything happens to you on these roads there will be no one around to know to look for you and if you may have difficulty walking back out to civilization.

Parking: Never allow yourself to be boxed in or trapped. Always survey your parking location and know the exits to and from the roads around you. If you must park in a position that only allows your vehicle to move one direction (like a parking space), back in. Do not park in a lot where there is only one narrow entrance, regardless of how many trees would conceal you from view. Always leave yourself a vantage point for a quick escape.

Parking in your suspects neighborhood may also be a bad idea in most cases. In the most rural areas of West Virginia, it will not even be possible and finding a place to set up within 1 mile of the suspect might prove impossible as well. For the small cities and mining towns, even if a direct position is available, it is best to avoid it completely. Sitting too close to the friends and family of your suspect is the easiest way to get noticed. Remember, they will know you are not from there and you will not see them call your suspect and let them know you are there. People talk in every society and a strange car outside could quickly become hot gossip. Look for a parking spot away from all houses. Then most people will not bother with you as they may think you are some random person hunting or fishing off the side of the road.

Bring a Book: Odds are there will be many places where your cell phone, laptop, and internet connections will not work. The metal inside of mountains makes keeping a fair signal complicated. It is important not to rely on your cell phone for entertainment during surveillance. Many times cranking your car to recharge your portable electronic devices alerts others to your presence and thus a book is the safest option. While you may be in the mountains and not parked near anyone, it is inevitable that sooner or later you will forget to turn off your headlights or bump the switch and turn something on that gives away your place inside the vehicle.

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