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United States' Policy Analysis on Undercover Operations

NCJ Number
International Journal of Police Science & Management Volume: 9 Issue: 4 Dated: Winter 2007 Pages: 371-380
Georg A. Wagner
Date Published
10 pages
After reviewing the history of police undercover practices in the United States, this article examines internal and external policies that guide the use of undercover law enforcement methods, followed by consideration of court cases that had a major impact on undercover officers' behaviors.
An undercover officer makes contact with suspected criminals without disclosing his role as a law enforcement officer. He/she obtains evidence of criminal activity that would otherwise remain hidden from police. Such evidence often becomes the foundation for subsequent convictions. Undercover operations are inherently risky, however, in that they may threaten the values given high priority under the U.S. Constitution, such as privacy, civil liberties, property rights, and protection against self-incrimination. The design of some undercover operations, notably those known as "stings," have raised concerns about entrapment, i.e., the enticing of persons to commit crimes they might not have committed without the promptings and actions of undercover officers. For these reasons, undercover agents must be well trained in the legal parameters for undercover work and be carefully monitored in the course of their undercover assignments. This article reviews the court cases that have set the legal parameters for undercover work in the United States. No court case has outlawed undercover work per se, but they have helped to define the nature of entrapment and the conditions under which undercover agents can obtain evidence without a search warrant. 14 references