What is it like to work with police informants?

A question posted recently on Quora asked, “What is it like to work with police informants?” Retired special agent Bob Cooke gave his opinion on the topic, below. Check it out and add your own thoughts in our comments section.

I have worked with all types of informants for more than 30 years. Having worked with hundreds of them I have a pretty clear understanding of what it is like to be an informant.

First off, most informants are referred to as Confidential Informants (CIs) by themselves, police and courts. CIs are sometimes very scared about what will happen when someone finds out that they snitched on them. Some CIs are very cocky because they are able to do something that the police can't do. Mainly, CIs have infiltrated an organization or a person involved in illegal activities.

Mercenary informants can become very bold. We nicknamed one CI that I worked with for over 15 years "Teflon." Criminal charges never seemed to stick and crooks never figured out that he was the informant on many cases. After a while his attitude was such that he acted as though we worked for him. If we didn't respond to his calls quickly enough he would begin "agency shopping." I have had a few CIs attempt to do this. They will call around to various law enforcement agencies and give them a little info to see how much they will pay.

What CIs eventually discover is that law enforcement agencies share information and we usually discover that a CI is "shopping." In those cases we either drop the payment or deactivate the CI and possibly make him the target of a new investigation. It isn't hard for a good cop to find a reason to arrest a CI. Then the CI is no longer a mercenary and becomes dependent on the cops to help him or her out on fresh charges.

Once a CI has your phone number you can be sure that you will get calls late at night, on weekends and on holidays. Some CIs think the police are really their friends. Today's CI is tomorrow’s suspect.  Cops can't hang around with felons when off-duty.

CIs don't like playing by established rules that are clearly explained and written out on their contracts with police. They must understand that they are not a police officer, must not carry a weapon, and must not use their sexuality or entrap someone into committing a crime. 

Some CIs will attempt to recruit other CIs for the police. I've worked with CI teams before. Sometimes it works out very well. In one case it saved my life because I treated them fairly. One of them called for help when I was being held at gun and knife point by two [cocaine] dealers. The only wound I suffered was a dog bite when the police K-9 bit me by mistake.

CI's know they are a valuable tool for law enforcement. It is true. Many cases would go unsolved without employing a CI. If an agreement is made to keep the CIs identity a secret then the government must abide by that written agreement. A CI will know at the onset of the investigation if his/her identity will remain confidential. Sometimes a CI's identity is compromised when a CI breaks those established rules of conduct. Otherwise the criminal case against the defendant might be dismissed to protect the informant.

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