During my career I have used a variety of law enforcement tools and techniques to accomplish my mission. I have used wire taps, deep rooted undercover agents and the highest levels of intelligence gathering available to the United States Government. None of them compare to the direct criminal intelligence developed by my “team” of informants.
I have been very fortunate in my career to develop informants from all walks of life. My informant base ranges from street level drug users and professional thieves to those with professional trades and solid careers. I have developed my network of informants by being upfront and honest with them about the process of working on behalf of the government.
As in business, networking and trust are the keys to developing long lasting relationships. I am diligent about encouraging my informants to produce and I go out of my way to show them my appreciation for their efforts. I often compensate them to the highest levels my agency allows.
Why? As with any employee, a happy employee works harder.
Yet, as an academy instructor and one who has nurtured and counseled up and coming investigators, I have learned that developing and maintaining informants is something that is rarely taught. Since informants have been the key to my success, I want to share some experiences to help you develop and, most importantly, maintain informants throughout your career.
The development of an informant, especially is a good one, takes perseverance. Much like a baseball player, you will never hit a home run if your bat is resting on your shoulder. It is your job as an investigator to seek out and find suspects, witnesses and even defendants to create your informant network. Everyone you encounter has valuable information and you must find their motivation to provide it.
If you are not debriefing EVERY single arrest for information you are leaving a potential informant on the table. Every arrest is a free opportunity to engage them about their criminal knowledge and involvement.
I have found that if you approach them with a straightforward approach about your needs for identifying the criminal element they are more likely to provide you with the information you seek. It is also important not to make promises you can’t keep. The first time you fail to hold up your end of the deal will likely be the last time you get valuable information from that source.
Once you develop an informant you must create and enhance their informant resume. We have all read these reports on search warrant affidavits, “information provided by a confidential source that has been proven reliable in the past”. Yet, many don’t understand how we get there. I have found that by giving my new informants simple tasks I develop their credibility and reliability.
When I get a new informant their first task is to call me back. Yes, that’s right. I tell them their first job is to call me on the following date at a set time. If they call on schedule I thank them and educate them on why I am building their credibility.
I then give them additional tasks to enhance their resume such as collecting license plate numbers or addresses from the suspects they provided. This gives them an activity to accomplish and gets them actively involved in intelligence gathering process. It serves as a way to get them invested in the investigation and it also sparks their creative juices as an extension of the government. However, if they are two minutes late, I call them and stress the importance of being on time and following directions.
This conversation is often the key to getting an informant on the right track to understand the importance of credibility. Informants who can follow directions and can respond to requests from their handler are more likely to be successful as they will grow to learn their success as an informant is based solely on their reliability and credibility.
As you develop and maintain your informant team don’t forget to reward them for their actions. Whether you compensate them financially per buy or per controlled meeting, always compensate them for their actions. But most importantly, thank them. Let them know that you genuinely appreciate their efforts and they will be more likely to return to work in the future.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Department of Justice or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Special Agent Christopher Allen, M.S. of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) serves as a Crisis Negotiator for the ATF’s Special Response Team. Prior to joining ATF, he served as a Maryland Heights, Missouri police officer. Chris has a Master’s Degree in Administration of Criminal Justice from Lindenwood University. He was an instructor at the Missouri Police Corps.
Christopher has worked many large-scale investigations focusing on criminal street gangs and international drug trafficking organizations as the ATF Liaison for the DEA Major Crimes Task Force and the ATF Gang Task Force. He also served on the investigative unit behind the scenes of Kansas City SWAT featured on A&E TV.
Additionally, Chris is the founder of Hunting for Heroes, a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving law enforcement officers that are severely injured in the line of duty. To contact Chris please email him at [email protected]
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