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Very often, my students interrogate me on how challenging—even impossible—it is to track someone in an urban area due to the massive presence of concrete, asphalt, tar, and floor tiles. In fact, the absence of real, natural soil sounds like an obstacle impossible to overcome for the application of this ancient but still remarkable art.
But it isn’t. The art of tracking teaches us where to look and how to do it.
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Each track tells a specific story, no matter which substrate it was left on. It is, in itself, the evidence that someone (or something) passed according to the basic principle of forensics: “Every contact leaves a trace“, as stated by Sir Edmund Locard in the past century.
The art of reading tracks, as you know, is mostly related to any outdoor scenario, preferably not so much contaminated by the presence of other tracks (either human either animal).
In order to become successful in detecting, reading, interpreting, and following tracks in an urban scenario, we must first become familiar with the underlayer and all the clues we can collect, no matter what kind of disturbances they are, as defined by the terminology of tracking.
In this article, we will see how to gain it and how to cover our tracks in case you’re being followed.
The fundamental point for tracking (and urban tracking makes no exceptions) is that any person who crosses an environment will leave behind a large amount of evidence — even microscopic and easily overlooked.
The primary differences consist in the essence of the scenario. The experienced tracker reckons many of the tracking techniques used in rural environments can also be employed in an urban context. Substrates do make the difference — concrete and asphalt roads are opposite to dirt trails, as we will soon discover.
But anyone can turn into a proficient tracker and make his/her own way into a systematic follow-up which takes place in urban settings: every detail counts, from accurate observation of the entire scenario to even the most minute details, which are perpetually changing due to the nuances of the heavily populated world we live in.
In the terminology of tracking, Track Traps are specific areas marked by the presence of a type of soil (mainly clay, dark humid soil, sand) particularly prone to capture the details of the design of a shoe (so-called “pattern” in tracking). These spots provide us remarkable aids to easily locate footprints.
If in the great outdoors, it is pretty common to have an abundance of them, especially in wet, shady areas, on river banks, and so on. The searching of such areas inside a city immediately appears to be extremely difficult.
Here are some urban track traps:
- Sides of roads
- Public parks
- Private parks
- Private gardens
- Flowered spaces (where you can also spot dew and spider webs)
- Dirt-covered spaces,
- Private roads to properties
- Parking lots (where you can find oil)
- Drainage canals
- Spots covered with tar
- Spots covered with sand
Indicators of Passage
The above-mentioned spots surely offer good chances to detect entire footprints. By saying that, there are also other indicators – not less important – that can provide authentic clues that someone crossed an area. For example:
- Any discharged material (such as cigarette butts)
- Any lost item
- Body fluids
- Dogs and cat droppings
- Any sticky material or liquid you can step on (such as paint on pedestrian zebra lines).
Benefits Of Seeing Tracks In The City
Having a tracker mindset is more than just being a fan of the art of tracking. Practical skills related to this ancient art also provide you with more:
- The capability of collecting crucial information on the whole scenario and on people too, as tracking is strictly related to profiling
- Better judgment
Tracking also helps you strengthen your situational awareness. This will enable you to maintain a high level of alertness, especially in big cities. By observing the surroundings, in fact, we create a mental database of places we see, their structural features, and possible exit points.
By observing people, we get better at profiling them, which can be extremely helpful when determining their intentions, especially in hazardous situations.
How To Cover Your Tracks In A City
There are surely more opportunities to leave minimum tracks in a city than any outdoor areas: the massive presence of hard surfaces can properly serve us as the ideal way to make our tracks disappear by confusing them with others.
By the way, in case your intentions are to not leave tracks at all, consider as mandatory the rule to not walk on humid, wet substrates, as well as to stay away from parks and gardens, and to avoid leaving any evidence of your passage in terms of discharged materials.
If this is unavoidable, stepping on others’ footprints is a good way to go. Wearing shoes with an undefined pattern, like mocassins, could be an option to consider.
Last but not least, you need to pay attention to the position of security cameras and to make payments only with cash. Technology related to tracking persons, even in cities, has become extremely effective in the last few decades.
“Psychology states that learning is the sum of the following circumstances: disposition, alertness, purpose of learning, interest in what is to be learned.” – Allan Wigfield
This is especially true for tracking in urban areas. If you want to be proficient in it, you must dedicate yourself to the constant observation of how tracks look in a city. Only through commitment and experience will you achieve good results, not only in detecting tracks but also in covering your own.
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