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Undercover Police Are No Longer Allowed to Have Sex With Suspects

After much scrutiny, new guidelines say that cops can't get married and have babies with their suspects.

by VICE Staff
29 June 2016, 11:30am


Protesters blockade New Scotland Yard, London, as they called for a judge-led inquiry into the use of undercover policing in 2011. (Photo by John Stillwell / PA)

There are plenty of things undercover police should be doing when investigating a potential criminal. Having sex with them is probably not that high on the list.

Following this logic, undercover police officers have been given new official guidelines to make sure they're all acting above board. The instructions, laid down in an 80-page document, state that they're never allowed to start sexual relationships with anyone they're targeting. More specifically, it prohibits officers from "form[ing] an intimate sexual relationship with those they are employed to infiltrate and target or may encounter during their deployment", adding, that "this conduct will never be authorised, nor must it ever be used as a tactic of a deployment.

Also, taking drugs is not authorised as a tactic for covert units. That doesn't mean it's strictly off the table. The guidelines say that if an officer takes drugs because they perceive an immediate threat, then this should be limited to the minimum extent necessary to mitigate that threat.

So when is undercover policing necessary in the first place? At present it's used by forces across England and Wales to obtain evidence and intelligence. "Foundation" operatives carry out low-level infiltration, like buying coke from a dealer in public. An "advanced" operative is trained up to undertake more serious infiltrations in which they must be able to withstand intense scrutiny, such as in terrorism investigations.

Alex Marshall, the chief executive of the College of Policing, told listeners of BBC Radio 4's Today programme that undercover policing is an "essential tactic" to protect the public – but these guidelines have been drafted partially in response to the severe scrutiny over what undercover cops have been up to over the past decade.

As revealed in 2013, many secretly stole the identities of dead children to help develop their fake personas, without speaking to the bereaved parents. Several women have unwittingly been involved in relationships with uncover officers – resulting in payoffs from Scotland Yard. A few years ago a woman who had a child with an undercover police officer called Bob Lambert who was spying on her said she feels she was "raped by the state". She said, "I feel I've got no foundations in my life. It was all built on sand – your first serious relationship, your first child, the first time you give birth – they're all significant, but for me they're gone, ruined, spoiled..."

Another woman who was engaged to a police spy sued the Met for "psychological torture". Another even flew across the world to track down a man who deceived her.

Guidelines are there for a reason – but not everyone is happy about them. Lawyer Jules Carey, of Bindmans, who is representing people whose lives have been affected by undercover policing, told the Guardian: "It is disappointing that the guidance fails to spell out that in a democracy the first consideration should be whether it is necessary to use an undercover officer at all, or whether the intelligence could be obtained through some other means. The guidance should also make it clear that the degree of intrusion should be proportionate to the seriousness of the crime being investigated."

More on undercover policing:

Was Your Ex an Undercover Spy?

Inside the Secret World of a British Undercover Drugs Cop

What It's Like to be an Undercover FBI Agent