Police investigators use information from confidential drug informants to arrest and convict alleged criminals, bring them to trial and obtain a conviction. Often, such informants are also criminals involved in similar criminal activities as the target suspects.
Informants may be individuals involved in criminal activity, or they may only be drug users who happen to have access to information that might be helpful to law enforcement. Generally, the use of informants is a two-way street, so the informant derives some type of benefit from his cooperation with the police.
Occasionally the police pay an informant for information, although this presents some ethical issues as it is likely the informant may use the money to commit illegal activity. Many times police investigators actively recruit drug users, burglars and prostitutes who have knowledge of the local drug trade to become confidential drug informants. Other times, the informants approach local law enforcement.
Police grapple with ethical issues relating to the recruitment and use of such informants. Informants may see themselves as part of the law enforcement team or think they are friends with the police investigator to whom they are supplying information. Police investigators must carefully maintain appropriate boundaries when dealing with informants.