Being a law enforcement informant is a very undesirable job due to many factors such as the stigma of being a snitch, fear of retaliation and the chance of being exposed formally by the government. More often than not, an informant comes to law enforcement out of necessity: personal necessity. The informant is often a suspect of another crime who is looking for relief from the hammer of the prosecutor’s office or they are a co-conspirator looking to separate themselves from the conspiracy.
These informants often reluctantly provide information as a last resort of self-preservation. In my experience, an informant who sits down with law enforcement under these pretenses often provides limited information as they cannot fully accept the fact that they are a snitch. They rarely provide the full scope of their knowledge, leaving investigators to piece together the sketchy facts provided from a less than desirable witness. The result of this type of informant provides limited results and often yields them limited relief from their pending cases.
However, there are those who eagerly accept the task of being a law enforcement informant. These are often referred to as professional informants. They have openly accepted the role as a snitch and embrace the fact that provided high quality and a high volume of reliable information can be an enjoyable and lucrative career path.
I have found that professional informants are valuable as a law enforcement tool for many reasons. One, they are rarely involved in the criminal use of narcotics which makes them much more reliable in terms of being eager to serve your agency versus looking to serve their own personal addictions. Two, these informants have developed a large, diverse criminal network where they can make controlled purchased of narcotics and introduce undercover police officers to support a large variety of cases. Third, a true professional informant can be called upon to assist with a proactive investigation by planting them into a crime ridden neighborhood to gather real time intelligence based on their ability to blend in to a variety of situations.
These professional informants often possess a skill set to mesh with any type of criminal element. They are versatile enough they can purchase all types of narcotics, firearms or even counterfeit goods and currency. They have the ability to obtain employment at establishments that are under investigation and are well versed at ferreting out the criminal element and establishing themselves as part of the illegal activity.
As an experienced handler of informants, I have learned that the most important qualities in an informant are trust and credibility. A quality informant must be able to be trusted with large amounts of the government’s cold, hard cash. They must be trusted with sensitive information and sensitive equipment such as covert body wires and recording devise. A quality informant also develops a trust with an undercover and serves as the front line of protection during complex undercover investigations.
A professional informant is only as valuable as their credibility. There is no case that is worth presenting where your key witness can be proven as unreliable. It is important for us as investigators to develop our informant’s credibility and to document it. Each time an informant provides valuable information that is another opportunity to enhance their resume. . A professional informant understands the value of credible information and expects to be compensated accordingly. They know that their “employment” is results- based and will provide quality information as it impacts their career success as much as it down our own.
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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