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SIO Corner: Resource Implications

This week we have decided that we want to mount a covert investigation - now what are the required resources and do we have them?

In this series we study Covert Investigation as a means to detection. This includes why investigate covertly, the drawbacks, directed and intrusive surveillance, interception of communications, mobile phones, computers, CHIS's and the legal issues including the effect of the Human Rights legislation.

The articles are excerpts from a new book from Blackstone's, 'Covert Investigation' 2nd Edition, written by two highly experienced former detectives (see 'About the Authors' at the end of the article).

What Are the Resource Implications?

If there is a need for covert investigation, then the operation to execute the covert method will need to be resourced properly and adequately. Covert investigation is often time-consuming and expensive (both in terms of actual and opportunity costs). Managers need to challenge themselves and investigators with the following questions:

• What is the required objective of the whole operation?
• What is the objective of the covert element (within the context of the whole operation)?
• How might it be achieved?
• Can it be afforded?
• Even it can be afforded, is the proposed action cost effective?
• What is the organization going to have to sacrifice, abandon or postpone in terms of other work in order to resource and support a covert investigation? (What are the opportunity costs of a covert investigation?)

The first three questions provide the contextual framework within which the remaining three questions must be considered.

Case study—the expense of technical support

An investigator wanted covert photographic surveillance of the rear of a house set in rural farmland. Avoiding the all-too common professional discourtesy of telling the Technical Support Unit how to do their job by specifying the equipment they should use, the investigator instead, and quite properly, asked simply for the desired product: photographic evidence, suitable for use at court if necessary, of persons entering and leaving the premises via the rear door.

A feasibility study highlighted a significant consequence. There was a need to deploy the camera in an elevated position in order to obtain the desired product. There being no suitable natural features in which to disguise such a deployment, a man-made solution would have to be constructed. This solution, on its own would have appeared out of place and so would attract undue attention. Therefore it would have to be disguised within the context of property improvement work, if the owners of the neighbouring property could be persuaded to accept such unsolicited enhancements. These were going to be very expensive photographs.

For managers, consideration of such circumstances must focus on whether the evidential value of the product obtained is proportionate to the cost of its acquisition. In this respect managers have their own proportionality considerations alongside those required by law of authorizing officers.

There are four general resource areas for consideration:

• Skills capability and capacity—how many appropriately-skilled staff needed and available?
• Technical capability and capacity—feasibility study needed prior to authorization
• CHIS requirement, if any—a specialism defined by interactive rather than remote surveillance
• Sustainability of operation—once started can it be continued, and for how long?

These considerations, it is suggested, should be contemplated prior to detailed planning and authorization application. An established covert investigative method may exist, but can it be adequately and safely executed by available staff? Safety in this consideration is as much about not compromising the method as it is about ensuring the personal safety of staff. The case study above illustrates the value of undertaking technical feasibility studies at the early contemplation stage. The deployment of CHISs (be they informers, undercover officers, or test purchase officers) may require significant advance planning, especially if trained staff have to be borrowed from other organizations for the purpose. The sustainability of operation can, of course, be adversely affected by unforeseen events occurring after the commencement of the operation, either within the context of the operation itself or as a result of events elsewhere to which the organization has to respond by diverting effort from existing operations. There is little that can be done to avoid such spontaneous developments. But how might that which can be foreseen or reasonably anticipated (e.g. annual leave, requirements to attend court, planned events to which the organization has to respond) influence the sustainability of the action being contemplated? What will be the cut-off point if the desired product is not achieved in the anticipated time-scale?

Protection of resources is also at issue. Consultation with the organizational security officer and with professional standards staff will identify opportunities to reduce the risk of compromising resources and investigations through proactive measures. This needs to be considered not only at the systemic level but also in relation to individual operations at the pre-planning stage. Planning following a compromise is too late.

These are the considerations that senior investigators and intending authorization applicants need to resolve prior to the detailed planning phase of a covert operation.

About the authors: Clive Harfield is Associate Professor of Law at the University of Wollongong, NSW. He previously served with the National Crime Squad and as a Detective Inspector and BCU Intelligence and Covert Operations Manager for Warwickshire Police. Karen Harfield is a Senior Executive with the Australian Crime Commission who previously served with HM Inspector of Constabulary and as Head of Intelligence for Warwickshire Police. Clive and Karen Harfield are also co-authors of 'Intelligence', another Blackstone's Practical Policing title.

To purchase a copy of  'Covert Investigation 2nd edition' click here

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