In this article, I draw on data derived from an ethnographic field study of covert policing in the United Kingdom to demonstrate that the deployment of covert surveillance has become normalized, both in policing thought and operational practice. In a break with earlier patterns, the methods of covert surveillance are used extensively and are no longer regarded as a tactic of last resort. Covert policing is well anchored within organizational arrangements, empowered by a series of internal rationales mobilized to justify the expansion of covert tactics over and above more traditional, overt forms. The building of intrusive and exceptional policing practices within mundane contexts, I argue, is one of the ways the police have adapted to a broader policing environment characterized by public scepticism and distrust. Policing relies on the invisibility and low profile that comes with covert work, in order to govern contemporary concerns of crime and insecurity without the conflicts which can accompany – and trouble – overt policing practices. As mainstream policing becomes an increasingly extroverted enterprise, introverted forms of policing have come to the fore.
Covert policing; surveillance; normalization; new visibility; security