Wednesday, June 13, 2012

How far do undercover cops go?

This is a question I had to ask myself whilst writing Necessity's Door, and it wasn't all that easy to come up with an answer. After all, ask any self-respecting police officer whether they would break the law if they went undercover, and the reply is likely to be a resounding 'no', not least because saying anything else might well cost them their job, or at the very least a stern talking-to by their inspector.

I've always had a sneaking suspicion that an officer who was undercover, who'd worked hard to infiltrate some criminal group or other, whose cover (or even life) might be at stake if they didn't pull their weight, might give a very different answer. Certainly Jake is sucked into his criminal lifestyle against his own better judgement. He knows that if he turned down every single punter who approached him, word would soon get round the other rentboys and their pimps, and he'd risk a good kicking, some very awkward questions, and the failure of the operation. Undercover officers and their teams can mitigate against this to an extent (in Jake's case, by setting his rates so high it would put off all but the most determined client), but there must be times when even that isn't enough. When an officer is forced to break the law, or suffer the consequences.

Even so, that little voice still piped up from time to time: was this really plausible? So I was delighted to find this article in today's news - an undercover officer accused of firebombing a London department store after he infiltrated the Animal Liberation Front. Presumably, he had no choice; presumably, if he'd stuck his hands behind his back when offered the matches, his new colleagues would have been so suspicious they'd never have trusted him with anything else again.

It's sad, of course, that a copper had to go to those lengths to bring the criminals concerned to justice. But it's proof that the life of an undercover officer is every bit as risky, dangerous, and morally ambiguous as I thought it might be - even if you'll never get the officers themselves to admit to it.

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