Canadian courts have allowed RCMP (that's Royal Canadian Mounted Police for you Dudley Dooright fans) officers to close open cases with a sting operation called "Mr. Big." It's a highly coercive operation designed to elicit confessions from suspects whom police believe are guilty of crimes that the police have been unable to solve by conventional means. Here's how it works: A specially trained unit of officers goes undercover and acts as a crime syndicate, complete with B-movie dialogue (we're not talking Tarantino here). A target is approached by undercover officers posing as syndicate members and offers the target a way to make easy money. The target is started slowly, asked to make deliveries of what he thinks are illegal goods. After a few successful deals, the target is introduced to "Mr. Big." Big shows the target a fake police report that says that the target is about to be arrested for a murder (the murder police believe he committed). Mr. Big tells the target that he knows police who are on the take and can make the crime go away but the target must first be honest and own up to his role in the murder -- he must confess to the crime group in great detail. If the crime group is persuaded, they will make the target a member of the group and give him a share of the profits. In some cases, they offer up a terminally ill person who will take the blame for the crime. Lots of money is flashed around and the target is witness to scenes of violence (fake murders are staged.)
Critics of the elaborate sting have argued that it is loaded with promises of rewards abd threats of harm and other tactics likley to lead to a false confession or at the very least a confession filled with bluster and exaggeration as the target tries to impress the crime group. The confession is bought, say other critics, not unlike the testimonmy of paid informants or jail house snitches.
The Supreme Court of Canada blessed the tactic, holding that undercover officers are not governed by the same prohibitions as uniformed officers. Such officers are allowed to give inducements to suspects to confess.
But concern over the tactics is beginning to emerge, in large part, because one of the earliest convictions based on the tactic --the conviction of Kyle Unger -- is being reviewed by the federal Justice Department. Unger was released on bail last year after spedning 14 years in prison for the murder of a 16 year old Manitoba girl. The only evidence against Unger was the confession -- such uncorroborated confessions are at the heart of many Big operations. the Justice department is concerned that the Unger confession may be false.
Stay tuned. Pretty soon, officers will be going to acting school as part of thier police training. Basedon the success of these sting operations, there may be some Oscar-caliber performances here.