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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Essay on Use of Police Informants in Criminal Investigation

            In December 2008, W. Mark Felt, the man known as Deep Throat, died due to congestive heart failure.  Deep Throat is best remembered as the secret informant who exposed the Watergate scandal which led to the resignation of President Nixon.  With his death, the public are instantly reminded of his revelation and that without the informant’s help, the scandal would not have leaked to the media and President Nixon’s participation in the obstruction of justice would not have been uncovered. 
            The Watergate scandal highlights one of the important roles of the police informants.  They are considered as vital and essential in the detection, investigation and prosecution of crime.  They are the police officers’ eyes and ears inside an underground and illegal organization and even in government offices who allows the police officers to monitor their illegal activities and helps them in the arrest and in the filing of criminal charges against the illegal organization.  This essay deals with the nature of the work of police informants and the role that they play in criminal investigation.  The objective of this paper is to prove that police informants are a necessary evil in crime fighting. 

Importance of Police Informants
            Criminal investigation is a very difficult and dangerous function of police officers.  When a crime happens, a police officer goes to the scene of the crime, tries to reconstruct the crime scene, and looks for the possible suspects.  If in case, there are witnesses to the crime, criminal investigation becomes easier as the suspect is immediately identified.  Problem arises when the police officers have no witnesses to the crime and there is no physical evidence found in the crime scene that will link the suspect to the crime scene.  The case even becomes more complicated when the crime has no victim or complainant is nobody is willing to give information or testify against the suspect.  In these instances, the police officer will have to rely on its vast resources to help them get the job done.  One of these resources is the police informants.

Definition of Police Informants
            In simple terms, an informant is someone who supplies or gives information.  However, in the aspect of criminal investigation, the term police informant can be defined in different ways.  The first definition is according to the motive of the person giving the definition which is “a person who, for monetary or other gain, supplies information on criminal activities to a member of the police” (“Police Informants: A discussion paper: On the nature and the management of the relationship between police and their informants”, 1993, p.9).  
            Second definition is according to the background of the person which is that an informant is an individual who is intimate with, if not employed in illegal activity who are able to assist the police officers (“Police Informants: A discussion paper: On the nature and the management of the relationship between police and their informants” p.9).  The third definition is one according to the regularity of the information given which is that an informant is someone who frequently or regularly supplies a police officer with information. 
            There are also many different types of informants.  A police informant can be a person who receives payment or any tradeoff in exchange for the information given or a person who simply gives information about another person’s illegal activities without waiting for any tradeoff.  A police informant can also be a person who because of his association with criminals is able to gather the information while a non-criminal informant is one who receives the information through lawful means.  .
            Police informants are any member of an underground organization or gang who gives the police officers information about the group or its members.  A police informant, also known as an informer, a snitch, or a sellout, plays in important role in criminal investigation and in crime fighting.   They are either existing members of the illegal organization who agrees to help police officers bring them down or they could be persons who purposely join the illegal organization for the purpose of getting vital information of the illegal organization’s activities.  For police officers they perform vital role in criminal investigation especially if there are no other leads or evidence that can be used against the suspects. 
            However for the gang members themselves, the informant is regarded as the worst form of criminal for choosing to betray their own kind.  As earlier mentioned, they are called as a snitch or sellouts because they betray the organization or the members of the organization to which they belong by cooperating with the police.  It is therefore common for informants to be tortured, injured or even killed by fellow gang members once they are discovered (“$1m reward for info on informant's murder”, 2008, p.1).     Without informants, law enforcement authorities would be unable to penetrate and destroy organized crime syndicates, drug trafficking cartels, bank frauds, telephone solicitation scams, public corruption, terrorist gangs, money launderers, espionage rings, and the likes

Informant’s Role in Drug Bust
            As mentioned earlier informants play an important role in consensual crimes or narcotics or illegal drugs and any other crimes involving organized syndicates.  Police informants are considered to be vital in the government’s battle against drugs.  This is because dealings involving drugs are conducted secretly.  Police officers cannot just ask people on the street about people who deal with drugs.  They would need people who can help them penetrate drug syndicates.  Most of the time these people hired by police officers to do the dirty job are members of the drug syndicates themselves who are already caught by police officers.  In exchange for lenient sentence or for dropping of charges against them, the police officers would usually enter into an agreement with them.   
            In these instances, there are usually no victims who are willing to testify.  Thus, it is important for one of the participants in the crime be convinced to help the police officers.  This is what happened in the recent $26,000 drug bust case which led to the arrest of several individuals.  According to newspaper reports, two persons were arrested.  Justin Newsome was arrested and charged with one count of trafficking cocaine and one count of possession with intent to manufacture, sell and distribute cocaine while Portia Leteres Hankins was charged with one count of possession with intent to manufacture, sell and distribute marijuana, one count of manufacturing marijuana and one count of possession of drug paraphernalia (Ana Ribeiro, 2008, p.1). 

Informant’s Role in the fight against Terrorism
            The United States is currently at war against domestic and international terrorism. Several laws have been passed aimed at strengthening the powers of law enforcement officers to give them better weapons against terrorists.  While the constitutionality of the powers given is debatable, the Executive Branch has granted the law enforcement officers sufficient power and authority to combat terrorist. 
            The threat of terrorism, however, continues to loom in the air.  Any person can be a suspect.  It can happen at any time of day and in any state. Just like a thief in the night, terrorists will come when the public least expect them to come.  The reality however is that the FBI and other government agencies can not protect us from a determined, well planned and well coordinated terrorist attack.  They will need the help of its pool of resources to track the activities of terrorists and stop them before they execute their plan.
            This is what the Mahmoud Omar did as he investigated a group of young Muslim men were being investigated for the plot to kill soldiers at Fort Dix (“Informant To Take Stand In Fort Dix Terror Trial”, 2008, p.1).   He carried with him a bug or a wire so that the investigators will be able to hear their conversation.  The young Muslims had planned to attack For Dix and to round up men and had already prepared the weapons they intend to use in the attack.  According to police investigators, they would not have successfully monitored the activities of the suspects and arrested them without the help of their informant.    
            While the government will portray his infiltration as key to arresting the men, defense attorneys will attack his credibility.  They added that with the help of their informant, they were able to gain access to the possible threat, to play along to see how far the suspects are willing to go and to take appropriate preventive action before the potential terrorists had made their move. 

Informant’s role in the Fight against Corruption
            Corruption is an evil that must be corrected.  Oftentimes, the people guilty of corruption are those high ranking government officials who abuse their power.  Part of the job of an informant is to expose these anomalies inside the government. 
            In 2008, John Kasman has sought to have Palm Beach County Family Court Judge Martin Collin censored or removed from office.  He alleged that he has evidence that will prove that Judge Collin granted certain favors to lawyers.

            There have been many controversies surrounding the use of informants in criminal investigation.  Some say they have selfish motives and aims to protect their own interest.  Some say they cannot be trusted.  Some say that the government is paying a lot of money for them.  Some say that they are abusive.  Some say that they make police officers lazy as they tend to rely on their informants. 
Be that as it may, they are, a necessary evil in criminal investigation.  Whatever their motives are they help in the criminal investigation of a case and in bringing the criminals to justice.  Police work is very difficult.  The police officers are known and identified by ring leaders and syndicates.  It would therefore be foolish of them to try to penetrate these syndicates on their own.  They will definitely need the help of insiders to the organization. 


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