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Undercover Policing: A Psychological and Operational Guide

NCJ Number
Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology Volume: 21 Issue: 2 Dated: Fall 2006 Pages: 1-24
Laurence Miller
Date Published
24 pages
This description of the role of psychological services in undercover policing focuses on team formation, selection and training, preparation for undercover operations, deployment and monitoring, termination and reintegration, stress management during operations, and postoperation services for psychological syndromes.
The role of the psychologist and psychological support in undercover operations is to function as an "honest broker" between all parties, to ensure that all of the personnel involved in an undercover operation are heard and understood, and that their needs and risks are addressed to ensure the success of the mission. Toward this end, this article discusses the role of psychological services in the various phases of an undercover operation. A discussion of the selection process of undercover team members addresses screening and the characteristics of effective undercover officers. Training must include instruction in how to recognize symptoms of stress reactions that might compromise the operation. Planning must consider preparation and support for the various psychological risks of an operation and a particular undercover identity, as well as attention to an analysis of the personality dynamics and behavioral profiles of the members of the group targeted for undercover work. The discussion of the deployment phase of the operation considers predeployment briefing, the stresses of undercover deployment, narcissistic entitlement and the thrill factor, role overidentification and the undercover Stockholm syndrome (bonding with undercover targets), and the management of deployment stress. The final phase of an operation involves its "closedown" or "decompression" as the operation ends. Among the psychological issues that must be addressed in this phase are undercover officers' psychological reactions to ending the operation, dealing with a failed mission, maladaptive responses in the reintegration process, and dealing with the Stockholm syndrome as bonds with the targeted group are terminated. 38 references