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Indeed, they are considered a justifiable and sometimes necessary aspect of undercover policing.
This practice of authorized criminality is secret, unaccountable, and in conflict with some of the basic premises of democratic policing.
Despite its widespread use in covert operations, authorized criminality is the subject of little regulation or guidance.
Covert policing necessarily involves deception, which in turn often leads to participation in activity that appears to be criminal. In undercover operations, the police have introduced drugs into prison, (1) undertaken assignments from Latin American drug cartels to launder money, (2) established fencing businesses that paid cash for stolen goods and for "referrals," (3) printed counterfeit bills, (4) and committed perjury, (5) to cite a few examples. (6) In each of these instances, undercover police engaged in seemingly illegal activity to gather evidence or to maintain their fictitious identities. Yet unless these acts are committed by "rogue cops" not authorized to participate in illegal activity, these activities aren't considered crimes. Indeed, they are considered a justifiable and sometimes necessary aspect of undercover policing. This practice of authorized criminality is secret, unaccountable, and in conflict with some of the basic premises of democratic policing. (7) And to the extent that authorized criminality presents mixed messages about their moral standing, it undermines social support for the police. (8) While the practice isn't new, authorized criminality raises fundamental questions about the limits of acceptable police conduct and has been too long ignored. What is authorized criminality? I define it as the practice of permitting covert police officers (9) to engage in conduct that would be criminal (10) outside of the context of the investigation. (11) We can then distinguish it from other covert policing tactics, such as passively deceptive surveillance, or the police adoption of the role of a victim rather than that of a fellow criminal. (12) Excluded too are instances where police may cross ethical boundaries but not legal ones, such as when undercover investigators stage homicides or other fictitious violent crimes in hopes of building credibility. (13) In Part I, I further situate authorized criminality in the context of covert policing, by discussing how undercover operations differ and why undercover police participate in crimes. While empirical data is limited, the available evidence shows that authorized criminality is a widely used aspect of undercover work.