This module is a resource for lecturers

Special investigative techniques and intelligence gathering

Conventional policing is primarily reactive, meaning that police action generally responds to crimes after they have been committed and reported. Successful investigation of organized crime requires proactive approaches, which are generally based on criminal intelligence analysis (UNODC, 2010). As discussed in Module 5, many crimes committed by organized criminal groups are not reported to authorities, so searches through financial records, and interviews with informants, citizens, and surveillance activities are often required to determine whether a crime has occurred.

The two general features of the proactive approach include the gathering of intelligence, followed by a criminal investigation. Intelligence gathering evaluates information, followed by analysis to support informed decision-making (Peterson, 1994; Innes, Fielding and Cope, 2005). In some jurisdictions, it is up to the law enforcement agencies to carry out intelligence gathering and analysis; in others, there are trained analysts who perform intelligence analysis, often involving financial and business records, individual background checks, reports from police surveillance or use of other special investigative techniques, interviews with informants, and related information. The investigation determines whether the results from the intelligence gathering and analysis can be connected to the criminal conduct of groups or networks.

Organized crime investigations: special training and perseverance

Successful organized crime investigations require more training and perseverance than investigations of conventional crimes. Interviews, informants, searches, surveillance and other special investigative techniques are needed to determine the precise nature and scope of an enterprise so it may be defeated successfully.

Special investigative techniques must balance the competing interests of ensuring public safety through arrest and detention of criminals with the need to ensure the rights of individuals (UNODC, 2013). The following principles are important in this regard:

  • Adequate control of implementation of special investigative techniques by judicial authorities, or other independent bodies through prior authorization, supervision during the investigation and/or after the fact review.
  • Ensuring proportionality of the special investigative technique used, when compared with the conduct being investigated following the principle that the least invasive method suitable to achieve the objective should be used.
  • The need for States to enact laws to permit the production of evidence gained through special investigative techniques in court, while respecting the right to a fair trial.
  • The need for operational guidelines and training in the use of special investigative techniques.

The consideration of the above principles is important as it is hardly deniable that the use of special investigative techniques such as controlled delivery, surveillance and undercover operations impact upon an individual's right to privacy. Interference with this right requires a clear legal basis in domestic legislation, and it must be necessary, reasonable, and proportionate. There have been various decisions of international human rights bodies and courts on the permissibility of the use of special investigative techniques such as covert surveillance and the parameters of these measures.

Special investigative techniques in the Organized Crime Convention

Article 20 of the Organized Crime Convention encourages States Parties to make appropriate use of special investigative techniques, including: controlled delivery, electronic and other surveillance, and undercover operations.

Article 20 (1)

If permitted by the basic principles of its domestic legal system, each State Party shall, within its possibilities and under the conditions prescribed by its domestic law, take the necessary measures to allow for the appropriate use of controlled delivery and, where it deems appropriate, for the use of other special investigative techniques, such as electronic or other forms of surveillance and undercover operations, by its competent authorities in its territory for the purpose of effectively combating organized crime.

The remainder of this section explains five major special investigative techniques often used in organized crime cases:

Next: Controlled delivery
Back to top