‘Mr. Big’ operations questioned

A controversial made-in-Canada police tactic designed to elicit confessions from suspects in murders and other serious crimes is "ingenious" but also carries a "high risk of incriminating the innocent," says a Canadian professor.

Timothy Moore, chair of the psychology department at York University, is scheduled to give a presentation about "Mr. Big" undercover sting operations today before an international conference of law enforcement investigators and academics in Toronto.

In the speech, Moore says the technique has been successful in catching and convicting "very bad guys" who might have got away with murder. But he also calls Mr. Big tactics "extraordinarily invasive and psychologically manipulative" and says the target of such an operation might have more reasons to lie about a crime he did not commit than to tell the truth.

The elaborate police operations, which sometimes last for months, typically work like this: Officers, posing as members of a criminal organization, entice the suspect to join the group. They get the suspect to carry out a variety of jobs - such as selling guns, cashing in casino chips and delivering packages - in return for money, Moore says.

The undercover agents flaunt their wealth by driving fancy cars, eating at upscale restaurants and frequenting strip clubs, and work hard to forge a personal connection with the suspect.

They also "create an atmosphere of apprehension" by conveying to the suspect that they will use violence against those who betray the gang, Moore says.

Eventually, a meeting is arranged between the suspect and Mr. Big, the boss of the fictitious crime group, designed to get the suspect to cough up details of past misdeeds.

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