Undercover activities have traditionally been used to target crimes involving corruption, drugs, pornography, and prostitution. This involves deception and involvement in illegal activity to gain evidence involving criminal activities. According to Marx (1988), “UCEs have worked to combat organized prostitution rings, the manufacture and distribution of drugs, street gangs, outlaw motorcycle gangs, and extremist groups on both the political left and right including the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, skinheads, and militant separatist groups.”
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These assignments include both short-term drug busts and long-term investigative assignments that last for years. However, despite success in preventing and controlling most of these crimes, an analysis of undercover activities reveals that several legal and moral problems encompass it.
Problems Associated With Undercover Police Investigations
The first problem associated with undercover police investigations is undercover participation in a crime. Most of the crimes that call for the application of undercover police are very difficult to investigate if the law enforcement officers are to wait for victim complaints. This calls for active participation and encouragement to commit a crime. The legal challenge is that the facilitation and entrapment must have limits to exonerate law enforcement officers from any wrongdoing.
The second problem is the risks associated with undercover operations. Some illegal activities and crimes such as tax evasion, money laundering, terrorism, and prostitution demand prolonged periods to collect enough evidence. This can be present both psychological and physical risks to covert officers. Queen (2005) illustrates that the biggest risk and fear of these officers revolve around the fact that “they are always on stage and must perform accordingly as one mistake could jeopardize the operation and/or place the officer in grave physical danger.”
The third problem associated with undercover police investigations is high levels of stress experienced by an undercover police officer. Generally, the nature and work of police officers have been pointed as characterized by varying degrees of stress. This becomes more poignant when an officer takes up undercover activities that involve infiltrating some of the most dangerous criminal organizations. Band and Sheehan (1999) report “66 percent of one group of officers reported that they sometimes or always experienced stress while performing undercover assignments.”
Arguments for Drug Legalization
The argument advanced by advocates for legalizing drugs that legalization would end the use of undercover government investigations that put officers at risk and is often legally and ethically compromising situations fails to solve the underlying social problems in most communities. First, drug-related crimes are not the only forms of crimes that demand undercover police investigations. Even if illegal consumption of drugs is legalized, the use of undercover police investigations will still be part of evidence collection in other forms of criminal activities. Secondly, the negative impacts of drugs in society are far greater than the risks faced by undercover police officers in the course of their duties.
The fact that the legalization of drugs would reduce crimes and violence is a myth. The legalization of drugs would increase the chances of drugs falling into the hands of children and thus having disastrous social impacts on society. Furthermore, the legalization of drugs would lead to a sharp increase in drug-related health complications such as heart diseases, diabetes, and several chronic illnesses. In summary, it is seen that the legalization of drugs does not address the wider social challenges that face the communities.
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Band, S., and Sheehan, M. (1999). Managing Undercover Stress: The Supervisor’s Role. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 68 (3): 1-7.
Marx, G. (1988). Undercover Police Surveillance in America. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Queen, W. (2005). Under and Alone: The True Story of the Undercover Agent Who Infiltrated America’s Most Violent Motorcycle Gang. New York: Random House.