I know a thing or two about undercover cops. The story ‘Undercover police rulebook to be published for the first time’ was published today on the BBC website. I read it with interest. As regular readers, you will be aware of the impending publication of my own book – Undercover: Operation Julie – The Inside Story.
I found that the guidelines had been devised by the College of Policing. It was known as the Bramshill Police College in my day. That worried me. From my own experiences, I find that these people are academics. There is a place for academics but it’s not out on the street infiltrating one of the largest (at the time) drugs gangs in the world.
What particularly worried me after reading the proposed guidelines, was the part that dealt with the use of drugs by an undercover operative (UCO). It is forbidden. In the proverbial ideal world, that is admirable. But, in the real world it’s a nonsense.
My role when undercover was to infiltrate the drugs gang, infiltrate the drugs distribution network. The people I was mixing with were all hardened smokers of hash and weed. Many of them used cocaine. In order to assimilate into this network I felt it right to use drugs with them. I still feel it was the correct thing to do. To refuse would undoubtedly have aroused suspicion. That is the difference between reality and idealism. Part of my cover was to show I was also dealing in drugs. I showed one of the targets a considerable amount of hashish. It’s an unusual hash dealer that does not use the product!
The ban on the use of drugs is couched in unambiguous terms. Further, there is a clear intention to enforce it as a provision is made for random drug testing of the UCOs. And, what is more the document makes it clear that the UCO may face disciplinary and/or criminal charges.
All of this is fine, if you inhabit an ideal world. If you wish to have an effective and credible UCO, this nonsense has the effect of exposing him/her to a real chance of danger.
I accept it is not perfect to ask young men or women to use drugs to further their UCO credibility. But, given certain circumstances, it has to be done.
This is an excerpt from the BBC article:
The draft guidance bans sexual relationships and says officers must submit to regular psychological tests.
The College of Policing said it had taken the unprecedented step in an effort to win back public support after a string of controversies.
The move comes ahead of a major public inquiry into undercover malpractice.
It will investigate how officers had sexual relationships with women, deployments leading to miscarriages of justice and whether two secretive disbanded units were out of control.
The 80 pages of guidance state:
Undercover officers cannot be deployed until they have passed nationally-recognised training and psychological screening – something that has never happened before
Taking drugs is banned as a tactic to infiltrate crime gangs because of a force’s duty to protect officers’ health
Chiefs will be responsible for approving operations, including how they change over time, rather than leaving an undercover officer to work things out for themselves.
The “string of controversies” referred to was the subject of one of my previous posts.
It seems the rationale behind the banning of the taking of drugs is governed by a ‘duty of care.’ It is too narrow an interpretation. What about the ‘duty of care’ owed to an officer to minimize the chances of exposure as an UCO?
I read all 80 pages. I laughed out loud when I read this part:
8.4.3 Working hours
Those involved in undercover deployments must consider the
Working Time (Amendment) Regulations 2003 and remain subject
to legislation and the regulations and rules governing the
respective law enforcement agencies.
The cover officer and UCO should make sure they are not
mentally or physically fatigued while deployed on operations. The
nature of undercover operational activity is unpredictable. The
COM-UC or operational lead should regularly review the hours
worked and the impact this is having on the UCO, the cover officer
and the operation.
UCOs and the cover officer should inform the COM-UC or
operational lead if they are suffering from mental or physical
fatigue. The COM-UC should make sure UCO and cover officer
working hours are recorded accurately.
That part of the report shows, for me, a complete ignorance of the realities of the work of an infiltrator. As an embedded UCO, you become someone else – a different person. You don’t live at home ergo you are working 24/7. It is sheer bloody nonsense to invoke the Working Time Directive in this context.
Sometimes, I despair. I am relieved and happy that I was an undercover infiltrator ‘back in the day.’
There are other issues contained within these proposed guidelines that astounded me. There is a consultation period to accept submissions before these guidelines are set in stone. Submissions are invited from numerous groups including “subject matter experts.” I am an expert in this field. I will make my submissions.
Further thoughts: I can’t help thinking about the ‘duty of care’ aspect of this issue. This thought strikes me: if the College of Policing deem that this duty plays a part in “Working hours,” then surely it follows this duty could prevent all undercover operations.
Think about it. By its definition this work is potentially dangerous and injurious to health, mental and physical. Does this mean that a UK law enforcement agency breaches its duty of care by permitting exposure to such risks?