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A brief essay on the use of informants

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  • A brief essay on the use of informants

    There have been some wildly inaccurate statements made about narcotics enforcement in several threads lately, so I thought I would create a generalized explanation of how police use informants.

    Keep in mind that there are 56,000-odd LE agencies in the USA, but this information will be viable in a general sense.


    Informants are regulated by department policy; they are assigned a number which is used in lieu of their name, and all interactions with them are carefully documented and usually recorded on both audio and video. No promise other than cash payment can be made without the involvement of the appropriate prosecuting attorney, and all cash payments are carefully documented and recorded up the chain of command. Normally, only an informant's handler will know their name; their file is sealed and can only be accessed by either the command staff officer assigned overall control of the informant program, or the Chief of Police. Access will be made by the latter two only in an emergency.

    First, let use address the types of informant. The terms used are those common to my area, and may not translate well, but the categories are valid.

    Spy: These are people who operate for money. They will wear a 'wire' (which these days is usually both audio and video and tiny) and purchase narcotics or other contraband with provided funds.
    Rat: This is a criminal who informs on another without any sort of incentive. This is usually pissed-off exes, criminal competitors, exes of stolen SOs, ex-partners who the target ripped off, and the like.
    Snitch: This is a criminal (property or narcotics crime only) working off a charge, or a third party working off a criminal's charge. My agency policy is a 3:1 trade. If we busted you on a felony, you're going to have to hand over three felony cases to clear yours, and they will have to be solid cases which will go the distance. If a snitch can come up with hard data on a high-profile case or something serious that is completely off our radar, the ratio may be adjusted. Snitches often make controlled buys or have monitored discussions with criminals.
    Source: This is usually an honest citizen bringing information to us for no compensation. Sources are usually of very limited value, but need to be handled carefully for the PR value.

    The ten rules to using informants:
    1) Never trust an informant.
    2) Never expose an informant's identity in any particular (to do so is to 'burn' an informant) past, present, or future.
    3) Endeavor to secretly establish a informant's real motivation.
    4) Whenever you send an informant into a situation to make a buy or similar operation, have sufficient force on standby to extract said informant.
    5) Keep in mind that all informants lose effectiveness with time; have an exit plan in place for your informant.
    6) Never give your informant anything which identifies them as such.
    7) Never steal another agency's informant.
    8) Monitor your informant to ensure they are not stepping out with another agency without your permission.
    9) Never use an informant as anything but a source of data. Never involve them in a case except as a data source or witness.
    10) Never establish a personal relationship of any type with an informant, past or present.

    I would rather have electronic surveillance than any sort of informant. For one thing, it is a lot easier to operate...
    Any man can hold his place when the bands play and women throw flowers; it is when the enemy presses close and metal shears through the ranks that one can acertain which are soldiers, and which are not.

  • #2
    I was on a jury once for a drug case. The prosecutor used a CI as their proof. The prosecutor had stated that the CI was getting nothing for his testimony. He supposedly had bought some crack from the defendant but they had no audio or video of the buy.
    It turned out that the CI was a former felon who had been caught using a firearm to illegally hunt and had turned CI to get off for his new charge. When that info came out along with the fact that they did not have any video or audio of the buy, we jurors felt we had to find the defendant Not Guilty because there was reasonable doubt even though we all thought that the defendant was probably guilty. If the keystone cops had gathered more info like audio or video or been honest about the CI we may have found him guilty.

    “Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.” -- Albert Einstein

    The US Constitution doesn't need to be rewritten it needs to be reread

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    • #3
      Originally posted by slick24 View Post
      I was on a jury once for a drug case. The prosecutor used a CI as their proof. The prosecutor had stated that the CI was getting nothing for his testimony. He supposedly had bought some crack from the defendant but they had no audio or video of the buy.
      It turned out that the CI was a former felon who had been caught using a firearm to illegally hunt and had turned CI to get off for his new charge. When that info came out along with the fact that they did not have any video or audio of the buy, we jurors felt we had to find the defendant Not Guilty because there was reasonable doubt even though we all thought that the defendant was probably guilty. If the keystone cops had gathered more info like audio or video or been honest about the CI we may have found him guilty.
      That is an excellent example of why you need detailed policies for the use of informants.

      When we send a spy in, he or she is wearing a audio and usually, a video device, complete with a GPS tracker so we can prove they are actually at point A. We will have audio & video of the spy being briefed and the buy money handed over. Then we have audio and video of the debriefing and the handing over of the contraband and unspent money.

      If you have all that, the motivation of the spy does not matter.
      Any man can hold his place when the bands play and women throw flowers; it is when the enemy presses close and metal shears through the ranks that one can acertain which are soldiers, and which are not.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Arnold J Rimmer View Post
        The ten rules to using informants: . . . .

        2) Never expose an informant's identity in any particular (to do so is to 'burn' an informant) past, present, or future. . . . .
        Henry Hill (of Goodfellas fame) told of how when he was pinched on narcotics charges, he found his snitch's name on a document sitting on his arresting officer's desk -- sitting in plain view.

        One of developments that's come out of the War on Drugs that really bothers me is the swearing out of "dynamic entry" or "no-knock" warrants based solely upon the account of a single CI. It was that that led to the Randy Weaver confrontation. Another case involved a retired minister in Boston, who suffered a heart attack in response to the flash-bang grenades chucked into his bedroom: turned out that the CI gave the wrong apartment number. Shouldn't no-knocks require meet higher bars than a CI's account? And shouldn't judges be smart enough to refuse to sign off on crap like that?
        I was married for two ******* years! Hell would be like Club Med! - Sam Kinison

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        • #5
          If the CI says they crazy meth heads armed to the teeth the cops will give him the benefit of the doubt. To do other wise is asking for trouble.
          you think you a real "bleep" solders you "bleep" plastic solders don't wory i will make you in to real "bleep" solders!! "bleep" plastic solders

          CPO Mzinyati

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          • #6
            Originally posted by andrewza View Post
            If the CI says they crazy meth heads armed to the teeth the cops will give him the benefit of the doubt. To do other wise is asking for trouble.
            Fact: CI's don't exactly qualify as "fine upstanding citizens." Therefore -- all things being equal -- if a CI is screaming that the sky is falling, then my first question will be, "is his rival gang standing under the clouds?"
            I was married for two ******* years! Hell would be like Club Med! - Sam Kinison

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            • #7
              Originally posted by slick_miester View Post
              Henry Hill (of Goodfellas fame) told of how when he was pinched on narcotics charges, he found his snitch's name on a document sitting on his arresting officer's desk -- sitting in plain view.

              One of developments that's come out of the War on Drugs that really bothers me is the swearing out of "dynamic entry" or "no-knock" warrants based solely upon the account of a single CI. It was that that led to the Randy Weaver confrontation. Another case involved a retired minister in Boston, who suffered a heart attack in response to the flash-bang grenades chucked into his bedroom: turned out that the CI gave the wrong apartment number. Shouldn't no-knocks require meet higher bars than a CI's account? And shouldn't judges be smart enough to refuse to sign off on crap like that?
              Well, you're hitting o two different points, at least in Texas.

              Firstly, will a judge issue a search warrant solely on a CI's word? I don't know, because we never work like that. We'll include the CI, of course, but see rule #1. We also do support investigation to build up on that material, even if its just video of brief visits by known drug abusers to that address. When we submit a warrant we've got a photo of the building in question, a MapQuest map to its front door, GPS cords, the works.

              A no-knock warrant (in Texas, at least) is issued because the judge feels there is clear evidence to support the procedure to ensure the safety of all involved. We ask for them only when there's no other option, because a no-knock warrant means you have to bring out the tac team, and that's a grand an hour in OT every time you do that.

              We like to catch the suspect outside the house, grab him, and say "Search warrant-hand over your keys." Which makes a no-knock warrant out of any warrant. Or similar approaches to cut risk and enhance surprise.

              A search warrant is a court order-they can't keep you out. So the key is to trick the owner into opening his door before he realizes what is going on. That way you have the speed & shock of a no-knock with the low risk of a regular warrant. Because you don't want his SO shoveling meth into the toilet (or locking and loading) while you're waiting to get the door open.

              Creativity: its not just for artists.
              Any man can hold his place when the bands play and women throw flowers; it is when the enemy presses close and metal shears through the ranks that one can acertain which are soldiers, and which are not.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Arnold J Rimmer View Post
                Well, you're hitting o two different points, at least in Texas.

                Firstly, will a judge issue a search warrant solely on a CI's word? I don't know, because we never work like that. We'll include the CI, of course, but see rule #1. We also do support investigation to build up on that material, even if its just video of brief visits by known drug abusers to that address. When we submit a warrant we've got a photo of the building in question, a MapQuest map to its front door, GPS cords, the works.
                Do you ever refer to the country clerk's office, looking for the correct description and/or address of the property described by the CI? I know that's time consuming, but I'm sure that it would preclude some of the confusion that ensues in these bad warrant cases.

                Originally posted by Arnold J Rimmer View Post
                A no-knock warrant (in Texas, at least) is issued because the judge feels there is clear evidence to support the procedure to ensure the safety of all involved. We ask for them only when there's no other option, because a no-knock warrant means you have to bring out the tac team, and that's a grand an hour in OT every time you do that.
                I bet: few things focus the mind as sharply as a grand-an-hour.

                Originally posted by Arnold J Rimmer View Post
                We like to catch the suspect outside the house, grab him, and say "Search warrant-hand over your keys." Which makes a no-knock warrant out of any warrant. Or similar approaches to cut risk and enhance surprise.
                That was one of the biggest criticisms of the ATF coming out of the Waco imbroglio: David Koresh regularly went into town, so presumably it would have been easier to detain him there and then execute a warrant back at the compound. In fact, the local sheriff's office had reportedly done that several times in the past. Scuttlebutt at the time had it that the ATF declined that option as their director was set to testify before the Appropriations Committee that week, and that he wanted something "dynamic" to show to the fat boys on the Hill.

                How often do political considerations like come into play for a local department's operations? I'd guess somewhere between "more than the public actually knows" and "less than the conspiracy theorists would have you believe."

                Originally posted by Arnold J Rimmer View Post
                Creativity: its not just for artists.
                Any tactic that both preserves the integrity of the investigation and mitigates the risk of confrontation sounds pretty good to me.
                I was married for two ******* years! Hell would be like Club Med! - Sam Kinison

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by slick_miester View Post
                  Do you ever refer to the country clerk's office, looking for the correct description and/or address of the property described by the CI? I know that's time consuming, but I'm sure that it would preclude some of the confusion that ensues in these bad warrant cases.
                  Well, firstly we've never had a bad warrant case.

                  And we never work off CI descriptions; see rule #1. We eyeball it ourselves, hence the photos and surveillance info.nd even on a low-risk warrant (if there is such an animal) you need to study the target to get an idea of the layout.

                  Frankly, I don't understand how people hit the wrong address.

                  Originally posted by slick_miester View Post
                  That was one of the biggest criticisms of the ATF coming out of the Waco imbroglio: David Koresh regularly went into town, so presumably it would have been easier to detain him there and then execute a warrant back at the compound. In fact, the local sheriff's office had reportedly done that several times in the past. Scuttlebutt at the time had it that the ATF declined that option as their director was set to testify before the Appropriations Committee that week, and that he wanted something "dynamic" to show to the fat boys on the Hill.
                  There's arguments both ways on that case. I've been told in ATF classes on the incident that their fear was that grabbing Koresh in town would have sparked the rest of the compound to lock down and create the exact situation that emerged.

                  How likely that is, I cannot say.

                  However, I never understood the horse trailer and roof assault, nor the failure to employ a tactical team.

                  Originally posted by slick_miester View Post
                  How often do political considerations like come into play for a local department's operations? I'd guess somewhere between "more than the public actually knows" and "less than the conspiracy theorists would have you believe."
                  IME, the problem stems from what we call careless justification.

                  Tactical teams, like anything else, cost money, both to form and to maintain. The smart move is to blend an ongoing low-key justification for the team into every aspect of interface between the department and the city (or county) government, until the team is embedded in their consciousness, and is a staple, a fixture.

                  Careless justification comes when the brass suddenly realize there is only a few weeks until the budget battles begin, and there is a sudden push to deploy all the boys and toys in order to grab headlines and justify outlay.

                  Hollywood makes tac team operations look very sexy, and much like porn, has little bearing on what actually (should) go on. Yeah, the assault phase is really, really, really fun, but a properly laid out team employment requires extensive planning and study of the specific situation.

                  IME if you can get a clear examination of tem operations that went horribly wrong 9not just embarrassing media events) you will find a common thread: a failure to train, and especially a failure to plan.

                  Team employments are like brain surgery: you do it under as perfect of conditions as you can create.
                  Any man can hold his place when the bands play and women throw flowers; it is when the enemy presses close and metal shears through the ranks that one can acertain which are soldiers, and which are not.

                  Comment

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