Mr. Big (police procedure)
Mr. Big (also known as the Canadian technique) is a covert investigation technique used by undercover police investigators in some parts of Canada and Australia to solve cases for which confessions are considered necessary for successful prosecution. In this method, police officers pose as members of a criminal gang in order to gain the confidence of the suspect, enlisting the suspect's participation in an escalating series of fictional crimes. Once the suspect's trust has been gained, the police persuade the suspect to confess to the earlier, real crime.
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The technique was developed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (‘RCMP’) in Vancouver, British Columbia in the early 1990s for cold case homicide investigations. In British Columbia, the technique has been used over 180 times, and, in 80% of the cases, it resulted in either a confession or the elimination of the suspect from suspicion. Since 1990, police in Victoria Australia have also used the technique on over 20 cases, and have successfully obtained murder confessions in several. In Australia, police have applied to the courts, unsuccessfully, to suppress the publication of the details of these tactics.
While the details of the technique vary from case to case, the method is for an undercover police unit to pose as members of a fictitious gang into which the suspect is inducted. The suspect is invited to participate in a series of escalating criminal activities (all of which are faked by the police), including robberies, control of prostitution, and standing guard during gang's activities. In addition, the "gang members" build a personal relationship with the suspect, through drinking together and other social activities. The goal is to win the confidence of the suspect. Eventually, the suspect is told that the police have a renewed interest in the original crime, and that the suspect needs to give the gang further details. The suspect is told that the boss (the so-called "Mr. Big") may have the ability to influence that police investigation, but only if the person admits all of the details of their earlier crime. They are also told that if they aren't completely clear about any past crimes, the gang may not be willing to continue to work with him, as he may be a liability.
Defense lawyers and criminal specialists have argued that the method is flawed for several reasons. In particular, they assert that the method may produce unreliable confessions. Len Hartnett, a lawyer for a Lorenzo Fatava, who was convicted in part using a confession obtained from this type of operation, argued that the police officers encourage confessions, "telegraph what they want to hear," and act as an authority figure to the suspect who is in a relatively powerless position. Prosecutors have countered by stating that a confession alone would never be considered sufficient evidence to prosecute a criminal in these cases, and that additional evidence would be necessary.
Mr. Big Documentary
In 2007, Tiffany Burns directed a documentary entitled Mr. Big that examined this method. The movie includes interviews with targets of the operation, their families (Burns herself is the sister of Sebastian Burns, who was convicted of murder in part due to being caught by a Mr. Big operation), and RCMP videos of various aspects of Mr. Big operations.
- Rodrick, Sharon (2007). "Suppresing Evidence of Police Methods - Part One". Melbourne University Law Review (2007/7).
- Munro, Ian (8 September 2004). "True Lies". The Age (Melbourne). Retrieved 4 August 2010.
- Hutchinson, Brian (18 December 2004). "RCMP Turns to "Mr Big" to Nab Criminals: Shootings, Assaults Staged in Elaborate Stings". National Post (Ontario, Canada).
- Munro, Ian (9 September 2004). "Lawyers Warn Against Police Stings". The Age (Melbourne). Retrieved 4 August 2010.
- "RCMP's 'Mr. Big' stings challenged". North Shore News. 24 August 2007. Retrieved 8 August 2010.
- Website for Mr. Big documentary
- Moore, T. E., Copeland, P. & Schuller, R. (2009), "Deceit, betrayal and the search for truth: Legal and psychological perspectives on the 'Mr Big' strategy", Criminal Law Quarterly, 55(3), 348-404. Available in PDF form.
- Smith, S. M., Stinson, V., & Patry, M. W. (2010). Confession evidence in Canada: Psychological issues and legal landscapes. Psychology, Crime & Law. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1068316X.2010.486380.
- Smith, S. M., Stinson, V., & Patry, M. W. (2010). High Risk Interrogation: Using the "Mr. Big" technique to elicit confessions. Law and Human Behavior, 34, 39-40.http://www.springerlink.com/content/t34qg4072g224g15/.
- Smith, S. M., Stinson, V., & Patry, M. W. (2009). Using the “Mr. Big” Technique to Elicit Confessions: Successful Innovation or Dangerous Development in the Canadian Legal System? Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 15, 168-193.http://husky1.stmarys.ca/~mpatry/Smithetal2009.pdf