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Stronger controls needed for undercover deployments
Undercover officers deployed into protest communities gathered intelligence which enabled the police to prevent acts of serious violence; but there was serious intrusion into the lives of others, and this risk needs to be better managed in future, a report published by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) has found.
HMIC reviewed the use of undercover officers by the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU), which is now part of the National Domestic Extremism Unit (NDEU).
Undercover deployments are inherently risky: and those aimed at gathering intelligence (ie as carried out by the NDEU) were in some respects more so than those aimed at gathering criminal evidence (e.g. staging a drugs purchase on a street corner). For instance, they tend to last longer (sometimes years), partly because trust takes longer to grow; this increases the risk of intrusion into the lives of all members of the group among which they are deployed. In addition, there is not the same accountability to the courts as for evidence-gathering deployments.
HMIC found that as well as being more risky, NPOIU operations were not as well controlled as those of other units which deploy undercover officers on serious criminality.
HMIC is therefore making recommendations to improve the control of undercover officers deployed to tackle criminality associated with public order and domestic extremism. These improvements centre on three main areas:
System of control: Serious consideration should be given to establishing a stronger system of pre-authorisation for pre-planned, long-term intelligence development operations, in order to increase the level of accountability in future.
Definitions: HMIC recommends that a clearer definition of domestic extremism (which reflects the severity of crimes that might warrant this title) would help in judging whether an undercover deployment is an appropriate tactic to use.
Structure: HMIC recommends a clear separation between units that collect intelligence on public order generally and those that collect intelligence on extremism, in recognition of the fact that domestic extremism and public order policing are two different police functions.
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