Patrol Officers Handling CIs

...but somebody has to do it. Talking with criminals and pushing them for useful information and then figuring out how to use them so that citizens are spared from becoming crime victims is even harder. We're talking about source development, handling Confidential Informants (CI), intelligence gathering activities or whatever you want to call it. I call it aggressive policing.

Does your agency develop sources of intelligence at the patrol officer level and aggressively use the information to hunt down criminals before they have an opportunity to victimize? I suspect they do not. In my travels as a trainer I have encountered hundreds of officers who tell the same tale: We've never been taught how to do that. Why not? That's a detective thing. I would argue that if you are wearing copper on your chest and carrying a gun it's a your thing, not just for the bureau. At the same time though as a patrol officer, it's not your fault you have not been trained in how to develop intelligence. The command staff has failed in their duties and here is why:


Need I say anymore? Both internal and external, it’s there. On the inside detectives, at times, can feel threatened when a uniform starts doing what is often perceived within the traditional police hierarchy as being bureau work. The gold shield is often a sought after position in policing. Unless they are a team player, understanding the big picture, and are secure with themselves on an emotional level, then they do not want competing influences. How many of you have worked for detectives who are happy to keep you just answering car crashes and generating reports for them to sift through on day shift?

Outside of the department politician's start feeling anxious when their local police engage in clandestine operations. The last thing an elected official wants is for a constituent to call his or her office complaining that the police are out of control. Politicians by nature are self-serving. They don't have your back. In their re-election campaign filled thought process they view the police more as Sheriff Andy Taylor than Detective Harry Callahan. If they knew their police force was out hunting down criminals using informants and conducting aggressive clandestine operations that they don't see or have control over then you better believe they will be on the phone pulling the plug on the event at the executive level with their political appointee (police chief). The only way, in my experience, politicians support aggressive policing is if they think that by not supporting the police they would lose their jobs. In other words the crime problem is so bad that something has to be done, not to protect the public at large, but to insulate them from voter backlash.

Not Easy

It's tough work. Filtering through fact or fiction when seated in front of a dirt bag who tells lies for a living is time consuming and the process certainly is not an absolute science. Vetting intelligence has been on the front page lately since Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to blow up a commercial jet liner over Detroit on Christmas Day. Blame was placed squarely on those tasked with this nearly impossible job, namely DHS and the CIA. The truth is that anyone who has ever debriefed sources and then pieced together proactive policing operations based on what they think they determined to be actionable knows that it is easier to sift through dirt and find a gold nugget than break a case wide open. It takes a lot of resources and a huge time commitment where success daily is measured in bits of intelligence moving the case forward rather than tangible evidence or arrest statistics. Most police agencies are stretched thin and the bosses would rather have cars out on the street keeping nuisance complaints under control instead of valuable time spent doing intelligence gathering actions. Keeping uniforms handing the petty stuff every day keeps the elected officials away (see a common denominator here?).


Handling informants is tricky and dangerous. The most valuable source of information are typically Defendant Informants, meaning you hold criminal charges over their head so they travel the path of least resistance at the moment you interrogate them. They roll-over on their boys to some extent to save their own hides. Working face to face with criminals in a cooperative sense brings danger on many levels. They can never be trusted. Every time you meet them you should treat them tactically as if you are encountering them for the first time. Always remember, they are criminals.

There are legal pitfalls too. Actually, to many to name here, but trust me you need to do some research. As I write this I can think of at least one LEO I worked with who is currently going through a federal trial facing a laundry list of indictments for allegedly mishandling an informant. Another officer pursued affairs with informants, while another was persecuted for allegedly tampering with evidence. Working in the underworld is dark, murky and dangerous, but absolutely essential, especially if we are going to tackle the War-On-Terror.

So, if handling CIs is politically risky, to hard and legally complex, if not downright dangerous, why bother as a patrol officer? Because our lives depend on it. Infiltrating the criminal underworld is the only way to effectively destroy organized criminal enterprises such as drug gangs and terrorist groups; those institutions with the propensity to cause mass casualty events. With the vast majority of municipal police forces in America having a sworn staff of ten officers or less, leaving the in-depth policing measures to the lone detective, or two or three, for the department is not efficient. Allowing officers to pool their strengths, efforts and pursue the criminal/terrorist element beyond their normal traditional bounds so that they can assist the bureau is effective. Patrol officers must be first, allowed to work like that, and second trained to do so while being administratively supported.

Ground Zero

If your agency does not work like what is described above, and is progressive enough to seriously consider changing to fully pursue CI handling at the uniform level, then where would you start? Listed below is the very least you need to know:

  • Call your prosecutor and hammer out an agreement with clear expectations (you to them and them to you) regarding CIs.
  • Seek out our federal partners in law enforcement. Do this for a couple reasons. They like to help when invited, have a ton of funding, and often have full time trainers focusing on state and local agencies (see link below). Because federal law enforcement does not do general policing they tend to devote their entire time to investigations using CIs. In short, don't recreate the wheel. Use theirs, in terms of CI handling protocols. (Check out the DEA link below).
  • If you are outside the effective travel zone for training from the feds, start by getting your hands on their publications. This can be accomplished through any number of means, but one in particular The International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA) I found especially useful to facilitate the appropriate contacts. The organization is a smorgasbord of "Who's Who" in cop knowledge worldwide.
  • In some rare cases, agencies will from to time post on the web their policies and procedures. If you can find a good reference and apply the core of what another police agency is using that will fit within the defined admissibility parameters of your particular jurisdiction then do that (See CI Management and Control pdf listed below from the Cincinnati, OH., Police Div.).

Finally, do not forget organizations representing your adversary. No, I'm not talking about a world terrorist association or anything like that but how about the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers? Defense Attorneys are all too happy to publish law enforcement sensitive documents for the world to see. Just reverse-purpose the intent and use for guidance what they disclose (see Inside the Informant File below). Just keep in mind that usually what they have is not the most up to date information, but still very valuable from a beginning standpoint.