What are Vice Investigations?

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Vices are typically referred to as activities that are illegal, immoral or not in the best interest of the community. Within the realm of criminal activities and law enforcement, vice refers to illegal acts associated with:

  • Gambling
  • Prostitution
  • Pornography
  • Illegal sale of alcohol/tobacco
  • After-hours establishments

It is typical for vice investigations to also include:

  • Labor racketeering
  • Corruption
  • Theft/fencing rings
  • Firearms
  • Extortion/bribery
  • Loan sharking

Most vice squads are located in urban areas, where vice crimes are more prevalent. These larger vice squads may provide assistance to smaller jurisdictions where a dedicated vice squad is not essential.

In some jurisdictions, vice investigations also include narcotics and human trafficking. In most jurisdictions, gambling, pornography and alcohol are not illegal, but they are closely regulated; therefore, vice squads are responsible for investigating incidences where the legal activities of the above cross the line into illegal activities. For example, gambling in some states is legal but closely regulated, so vice detectives may investigate illegal gambling operations. Likewise, vice detectives may investigate sales of liquor to minors.

Because vice crimes are typically street-level crimes, their existence and operations are often hard to track down and prosecute. As such, vice investigators must often perform undercover investigations, some of which may take months or even years to complete.

Vice detectives, who most often work out of a city or county police or sheriff’s department, are responsible for curbing or preventing illegal activities from taking place through the utilization of their investigative skills, undercover surveillance work, and tips from the community or from informants.

The Undercover Work of Vice Investigators

Vice investigator jobs require a significant amount of undercover work, as the easiest way to gather evidence and make a case against individuals engaged in illegal vice crimes is to be among them. Their work may involve everything from posing as a drug dealer to posing as a prostitute.

Sting operations, often with other members of the law enforcement community or nearby jurisdictions, are commonplace among vice investigation units.

One of the difficulties of working as a vice detective is ensuring that no laws were broken when conducting undercover work and building a case. Once vice detectives have built their case and prosecutors have taken the case to court, these criminal investigators must often appear as witnesses, which require them to detail the nuances of the case and the criminal’s role. One of the most important jobs of vice detectives during a case is to successfully show that no coercion was used when making the case against the defendant.

Job Duties of Vice Detectives

The mission of police department vice squads is to:

  • Conduct complex investigations that are used to identify illegal vice crimes and prosecute the criminals who commit them
  • Assist the police department’s patrol divisions by developing and implementing strategies that address identifying vice crimes and by providing oversight, training and support to all areas of the department regarding vice issues
  • Collect, record, maintain, and disseminate intelligence data on criminals who engage in vice crimes
  • Maintain liaisons with county, city, state, and federal agencies

Vice detectives typically complete the following duties during the course of an investigation:

  • Ensure that all crime forms are completed on the first day of the offense
  • Determine whether any leads or suspects exist
  • Determine if there is any additional information from witnesses, informants, and community members
  • Disseminate information to nearby police departments and other relevant agencies
  • Conduct searches for witnesses, evidence, victims and suspects
  • Utilize surveillance and uncover work to gain additional information
  • Utilize city/county facilities to garner additional information
  • Conduct the proper collection, preservation and submission of evidence

Training Requirements for Vice Investigators

In-service training requirements for vice investigators are often focused on the newest strategies for completing undercover police work. As such, typical topics in a vice investigator training program include:

  • Crisis management
  • Electronic and video surveillance equipment
  • Ethics and misconduct in undercover operations
  • Managing covert operations
  • Operational planning
  • Post-incident procedures
  • Selecting and managing undercover personnel
  • Supervising street buys
  • Undercover personnel issues
  • Undercover risk analysis

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