College of Policing launches guidance to provide support to undercover officers

The College of Policing has updated it Authorised Professional Practice in relation to undercover policing to emphasis the fact that officers in England and Wales volunteering to become undercover operatives will, in addition to the skills and training required for the role, undergo regular psychological assessments. They will also be approved for roles by a senior officer.

According to the College of Policing, the welfare of undercover operatives plays a significant role in the guidance, with ongoing assessments advised at all stages of an undercover operative’s tenure.


It says that due to the fact undercover operatives experience high levels of stress they must undergo regular psychological assessments – both at the start and throughout their deployment. The frequency of psychological assessments varies for foundation, advanced and online operatives, because of the differing demands of the roles.

The guidance says that because of the highly stressful nature of undercover work, the guidance takes into account the recommendation made in a 2014 Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary report, which asked the College of Policing to establish an appropriate length of time for undercover operatives to be deployed in the role.


It also points out that while it is difficult to establish a set tenure for all undercover operatives – factors can include psychological stress, reduction in skills because of lack of access to training and staff turnover,  the guidance recommends that forces should take a risk-based approach, where senior officers assess individual officers on an annual basis to determine an appropriate length of tenure. 

Undercover policing, when carried out ethically and lawfully is a vital tactic for keeping people safe and bringing dangerous criminals and gangs to justice.


David Tucker, crime lead for the College of Policing said: “The guidance establishes a rigorous accreditation process for undercover units and operatives. Units can seek undercover accreditation in three categories: foundation, advanced and undercover online.

“All units undertaking undercover work also make arrangements to make deployments as safe as possible for the officers.

“Overall, the APP sets out a sound framework to support delivery of safe, ethical and legal undercover policing tactics.”

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