Elizabeth Sukkau & Joan Brockman, ““Boys, You Should All Be In Hollywood”: Perspectives on the Mr. Big Investigative Technique”

Working Abstract

The Mr. Big technique, which involves undercover police officers pretending to be part of a criminal organization and engaging a targeted suspect to elicit information or a confession for a suspected crime, carries concerns of false confessions and wrongful convictions. Only 3% of our respondents thought that people would not falsely confess in a Mr. Big investigation which provided advantages and no negative consequences. This paper examines students’ knowledge and perspectives of the Mr. Big technique and compares our findings with some of the same questions asked of the public in British Columbia in a 2008 survey commissioned by the RCMP. Although there were similarities in the responses in the two surveys, our study showed a lower approval of the Mr. Big technique than the RCMP study. Some of these differences might be attributed to the survey mode effect—we used a self-response questionnaire with “depends” and “don’t know” options, whereas the RCMP used a telephone survey leaving the responses up to the respondents. An examination of the qualitative responses in our study demonstrated that many respondents who indicated approval of the Mr. Big technique did not understand it, thinking that it involved undercover police infiltrating a criminal organization, not creating one. We also asked whether certain activity would “shock the community” and deserve to be excluded as evidence and found that our respondents differed from the Supreme Court of Canada’s judgment of what would shock the community.

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