What I mean is this. Police suspects someone living at a house is running an illegal operation from there. So, they mount a base on a house across the street and from there they observe the suspect, take pictures, etc. The operation can be simple as two cops on a car, from a distance, observing the suspect, 24h.

How do you say:

the cops are doing a _________________ operation

I am talking about the act of doing it hidden.

For example, you have sting operations, where you deploy a bait car to catch thieves, or an undercover operation where you infiltrate a gang, for example. What about this kind of hidden observing a suspect?

I am sure I have heard that a million times on movies, but I cannot remember.

  • in a hidden manner or way.
    – Lambie
    Nov 11, 2020 at 23:25
  • 1
    Why is "surveillance" not the Answer? What research did you do? Nov 12, 2020 at 19:48

6 Answers 6


Maybe "clandestine" or "covert" operation, for adjectives, or "surveillance", using that noun as an adjective.

  • 17
    @Lambie: In the real world, US police do a lot of spying. See for instance "undercover cop", "wiretap", and similar terms. Heck, even that cop (or perhaps multiple cops) I see hanging out behind a hill is doing covert surveillance.
    – jamesqf
    Nov 12, 2020 at 3:58
  • 2
    @jamesqf Of course they do but a base across the street in American English is not called clandestine or covert. For pete's sake...It is called undercover surveillance or a stakeout. Cops may engage in spying but generally spying is between countries. Anyone can spy on anyone,right?
    – Lambie
    Nov 12, 2020 at 15:55
  • 3
    @Lambie: I think you are trying to split hairs here. There are many forms of covert surveillance, and US cops use most of them. I'm not arguing about exactly what engaging in surveillance from "a base across the street" is called . I simply commented on your absurd claim that police don't do it, whatever it might be called.
    – jamesqf
    Nov 13, 2020 at 2:33
  • 3
    @Lambie "generally spying is between countries" No. A spouse can spy on their husband if they suspect an affair. Industrial espionage where companies spy on each other to gain their secrets is a big thing. parents sometimes spy on their children. And of couse cops sometimes spy ... covertly, as I may add.
    – Polygnome
    Nov 13, 2020 at 9:00
  • 2
    NYPD has an Intelligence and CounterTerrorism Department. They most are most definitely a spy organization.
    – Yorik
    Nov 13, 2020 at 21:04

A stakeout is defined as "a surveillance maintained by the police of an area or a person suspected of criminal activity."

You do not use it in combination with the word "operation" - it is a noun in its own right. So you would say, "The cops are doing a stakeout."

  • Or you verb it and just say that the cops are "staking out" 1234 Any St.
    – Bill Barth
    Nov 13, 2020 at 16:57
  • @BillBarth - Note that you added an object that wasn't in the original sentence, since the phrasal verb stake out is always transitive. Nov 13, 2020 at 17:14
  • OK, so you rewrite your sentence/paragraph a bit to include the object since the original question contemplated a location.
    – Bill Barth
    Nov 13, 2020 at 17:17

In the U.S. they would be working undercover and you could say, The cops are engaged in undercover surveillance. Clandestine and covert also work but I think undercover is most often used to describe police activities.

  • 7
    Undercover means that the investigator becomes a member of the group they're investigating, without revealing that they're in law enforcement. It doesn't refer to observing at a distance.
    – Barmar
    Nov 12, 2020 at 14:40
  • @Barmar You are correct. This journal's summary seems to address some of the OP's questions. ncjrs.gov/App/Publications/abstract.aspx?ID=92672
    – EllieK
    Nov 12, 2020 at 17:11

The "base in a house across the street" is called a stakeout.

  • I feel like a stakeout is often waiting for a suspect to arrive, then grabbing them, Nov 12, 2020 at 2:33
  • 1
    @OwenReynolds No, that's an ambush. The intent of a stakeout is purely surveillance (which may naturally lead to an arrest or confrontation later based on the evidence acquired).
    – TypeIA
    Nov 12, 2020 at 7:31
  • Say the cops think a murder suspect might show up at his girlfriend's house. The chief doesn't say "do an ambush", they say "stake out her place". Nov 12, 2020 at 18:05

This would be called "surveillance", officially - or "stakeout" as slang.

In that case, the police would "be undercover", but that doesn't fit the clue, as it would be "an undercover operation".

  • "Stakeout" is US slang as well, I'm not aware of the term in an Australian context, only from US movies. Nov 14, 2020 at 3:20

Why not simply state:

“…the cops are doing a secret operation…”

Also, keep in mind language should change if the circumstances don’t include a public law enforcement authority. Such as if I were to do a personal investigation without letting anyone know I would describe it as follows:

“…he is doing his own personal operation…”

Or this:

“…he is doing his own private operation…”

Context and who is doing it determines language used. Police would never do something in a “personal” or “private” way like this. Their operations will always be non-personal (they are doing their job) and would not be private (they are in public service).

But that said if some police are doing unofficial investigations/operations — something that would get them in trouble if higher ups in the department learned about it — it could be described as:

“…the cops are doing an unsanctioned operation…”

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .