Mr Big - the moniker conjures up mental pictures of an imposing mobster who controls all - who can make all your problems disappear, make you rich or maybe make you disappear. At least that's what the undercover police officer posing as Mr. Big wants the target to believe.
Developed by undercover RCMP officers in British Columbia in the early 1990s, the tactic of luring the suspect of a major crime into a fictitious criminal organization (police officers posing as gangsters) to extract confessions has proved successful at cracking tough cases across Canada. In a 2008 investigative series on Mr. Big, The Vancouver Sun reported that the tactic has been used "350 times so far with a 75-per-cent conviction/clearance rate. In 95 per cent of the cases that end up in court, the target is convicted."
Police critics, however, say the Mr. Big scheme is tantamount to coercion and that when plied with the right inducements - money, companionship, a sense of belonging and acceptance - it is a scenario ripe for false confessions. While the Canadian courts uphold the tactic, it is regarded in Britain and the United States as coercive and not allowed.
The RCMP claims it has built-in mechanisms to catch false confessions, but since the identification of officers and their work is always blanketed by an extensive publication ban there has been little judicial or public scrutiny.
Here's how Mr Big works:
Significant profiling work is done before the Mr. Big operation begins to determine how to approach the target.
One police officer, called the Cover, keeps in close contact with the undercovers and directs how all day-to-day scenarios are played out. There is usually one or two Primary Operators - police undercovers who befriend the target and bring them into the gang. They involve the target in fictitious criminal activities, including drug deals, assaults or theft and pay them cash money. Other Operators are brought in as needed to act as supporting cast to the Primary Operators. Once the target is hooked the Primary Operators introduce the target to Mr. Big. The target must come clean about a past crime to gain the trust of the gang leader and move up the ranks.
Usually, the next time the target sees his so-called criminal buddies is in court when they testify as police officers.