Sounds silly as hell, right? Let me explain. Every small town has some kind of rinky-dink little coffee shop or restaurant where folks gather. In the area I’m living in now just north about ten miles is a small city of about 10,000 people (the one I refer to in the Migration piece). Now this place has been there forever and has probably the most eclectic group that frequents it you’d ever think of associating with. When I first moved back I didn’t give it much thought due to the less than favorable reviews my friends and neighbors had given it. However I started noticing that every time I drove by there were a couple of LEO vehicles (PD and SO) parked there. So I took the plunge a few months back and started popping in. I knew a couple of guys that frequented there so it didn’t take long till I gained the trust of most of the regulars. That trust is invaluable. Note during all of this I always maintain one rule for myself – at no time do I ever initiate any talk about SHTF, the .gov, POTUS, etc… I stay as “gray man” as possible in the place. John Deere hat, Wal-Mart camo windbreaker, the works. I always open any kind of conversation with very recent info that has come out in the news (be it TV or the local rag). I’ve pretty much figured out around here (as with any small town or rural community) the Weather is about as common a topic to open with as anything. EVERYONE has an opinion on the weather. Agreeing with that opinion opens the door.
So big deal, right? Read on. Well Monday mornings is when a local ritual takes place. The majority of the LEOs in the area grab a cup of coffee and rub elbows with the State troopers that run the section of Highway that runs through this little town. And not only LEOs but also our County Department of Emergency Management guy (a real blabbermouth good ol’ boy). I read the local paper religiously – as small of a rag it still delivers some decent info. Lately there’s been a lot of articles about Meth busts in the area that have been pretty lean on details. I caught some of the traffic on a scanner here and there but I didn’t get the full picture until I broke bacon with those boys. By laying low, playing the grey man, and “working” the table I was able to get the following info from some very generic statements. Notice I said statements. Questions are recognizable as wanting more info – aka Intelligence gathering. Statements are taken as opinion and are likely to raise less suspicion. I’ll cite the statements I made (to the best of my recollection as an entire day has passed) and follow it up with what I found out.
S: “I’ve been reading about these Meth busts in the area – Man I’d like to run every damn one of those punks outta here.”
I: That not only do the local and county boys know that gangs have run up into this AO but the State Police is actively investigating a possible Mexican Drug cartel link to the Meth problems. So far all they have found is storage houses, no production facilities. And some of the weapons seized at the last raid were full auto AKs. That WAS NOT in the paper.
S: “Damn those guys were armed up like a buncha LA gangbangers.”
I: The gang problem in the area is growing faster than they might have thought. Two MS13 members were busted in the town after running a red light. In the trunk was a sawed off shotgun, a couple of pistols, and a couple of grand in cash along with a baggie full of weed. This was in the paper but the gang affiliation part was NOT.
S: “I’m glad I don’t have to drive up and down these crappy ass roads all day – I’d hate to have to stop someone because I’d be afraid to get run over”
I:. The State Department of Transportation is planning on adding a 25 foot wide extended shoulder a few miles North of my AO. I asked them what it was for and Mr. DEM guy spilled it was for establishing vehicle check points.
S: “You guys needs some tanks and rocket launchers to take all these Methheads and gangbangers out”
I: The state police are taking delivery on some kind of military vehicle in August – “An armored car”. It’s going to be stationed about 20 miles south of my AO at the State Police training facility. After that each Regional HQ will get one over the next couple of years. That puts about four total belonging to the state police within 100 miles of my AO.
It’s pretty easy to understand the gathering technique. In some cases you’ll be getting the info directly form the horse’s mouth. Even secondhand (maybe from a squadmate or another deputy) you’ll often gather little bits and pieces that flesh out the big picture.
Those same techniques can work at the gas pumps, the Co-Op, the grocery store, the bank, and pretty much any other local gathering place. Lay low, gain trust, and before long you’ll be able to get the best info out there. The old saying goes “Loose Lips sink ships” and it’s true. Just by working a little HUMINT gathering this morning over some bad food I gathered some decent intel and increased my situational awareness on what’s going on around my AO. And all it costs me was a cup of coffee, some greasy bacon and eggs, and a little heartburn.