How Do Law Enforcement Agencies Use Criminal Informants?


Quick Answer

Law enforcement agencies involve criminal informants in building criminal cases against others. In the United States, the agencies enroll thousands of informants each year, often in exchange for leniency in their own criminal cases, according to The New Yorker. Mostly used in narcotics operations, criminal informants work as undercover agents to provide law enforcement agencies with hard-to-access information. The execution of undercover operations using criminal informants is often under the discretion of law enforcers.

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Full Answer

Fueled by the promise by law enforcement agencies to have charges against them dropped or reduced, informants provide substantial assistance in the crackdown of criminal activity, explains The New Yorker. Estimates indicate that up to 80 percent of drug-related cases involve criminal informants, often in active roles. To protect informants and preserve their roles, law enforcers keep their identities secret and use informant control procedures to maintain their agencies’ credibility, reports the Police Chief Magazine.

Law enforcement agencies such as police departments with limited financial resources or untrained criminal investigators use informants as an inexpensive source of labor to perform the work of undercover officers. However, the informants have few legal protections, and their use involves few institutional checks. The criminal justice system makes it easy to enroll and use informants in spite of the risks the activity involves, as opposed to alternative approaches that pose a lower risk but are more cumbersome, notes The New Yorker.

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