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Crime Investigation Work


This paper examines recent trends in the use of informants by the law enforcement agencies in crime investigation work. The rise of the terrorism and the demand for an increased degree of efficiency in the delivery of policing services is identified as an important influence upon the apparent increased willingness of police policy makers to countenance the use of informants (Klockers, 2005). Data is presented which suggests that informants are an excellent and cost-effective resource of information for the police, but it is argued that in the long-term, an over-reliance upon informants by the law enforcement agencies may prove detrimental to the legitimacy of the organizations responsible for the safety of citizens and to protect them from terrorism (Castells, 2004).

All organizations that are involved in the production of social control are to some extent dependent upon information from those connected to the activities over which control is being sought. The role of the 'informant' has traditionally been seen as an adjunct to the enforcement of criminal law, but more recently research has demonstrated that similar sources of information are of manifest importance in the functioning of regulatory and compliance based legal frameworks (Hutter, 2000). Whether it is labeled as 'informing' or 'whistle blowing', the provision of inside knowledge to external authorities is а central component in determining the effectiveness of the relevant control agency. To be routinely knowledgeable about breaches of rules, regulations and laws, one needs to be in close contact with those who are engaged in such activities.

This paper focuses upon an examination of recent developments in the role of police informants in crime investigation work. In particular it looks at the contributions made by those individuals who provide information to the police on more than one occasion and are themselves either engaged in criminal activity, or have а close affinity with the criminal milieu (Castells, 2004).

While informants have always influenced law enforcement agencies efforts in the area of crime control, they are increasingly coming to be seen as а key resource in police crime investigation strategies. In а recent publication The Audit Commission (2000) declared that informants are 'the lifeblood of CIA' and have vociferously advocated an increased use of them in the law enforcement agencies response to crime.(Giddens, 2004) In this paper it is argued, that the recent developments in respect of an increased emphasis upon the use of informants, needs to be understood against а backdrop of wider social, economic and political trends. Chief amongst which is the rise of the 'new managerial state' (Clarke et al., 2004).

As will be demonstrated, the use of informants facilitates а cost-effective response to crime and in this age of increased financial restraints on public sector spending, questions of efficiency are of central importance to the delivery of law enforcement services. However, the fact that informants enable а cost-effective response, is not necessarily commensurate with saying either that informants can or ought to be used more regularly by the law enforcement agencies.

The 'value' of an informant to the law enforcement agencies is founded upon the fact that they are possessors of 'insider knowledge'. This knowledge is often acquired through their own participation in crime or their close affinity with those who engage in such activities. For many people, this generates а profound sense of moral ambiguity in relation to the law enforcement agencies use of informants. After all, as the state institution charged with providing the principal formal social response to infractions of the moral and legal codes, the law enforcement agencies are manifestly involved in the symbolic construction, integration and maintenance of а number of core social values (Forsell, 1999).

This paper seeks to contribute to the debate in this area, particularly in the light of recent policy initiatives from the upper echelons of the police service, where substantive recommendations have been made to enhance and promote the use of informants in all areas of crime investigation work. Attention is given to the recent developments in the management procedures relating to informants, as well as some of the merits and

The Definitional Problem

People can possess any number of reasons as to why they might wish to pass information to the authorities about the (possibly) criminal, unethical or deviant activities of others. The source of the motivation to provide such information can be either internal or external to the particular individual concerned. Some choose to volunteer information to the authorities out of а sense of civic duty, others do so as an act of revenge against someone they feel has wronged them. For some people in certain situations, their co-operation may be motivated by political ideology. In other instances the law enforcement organization may provide an external pecuniary or non-pecuniary incentive to an individual, in an effort to try and persuade them to act as а conduit for the communication of information in which they are interested (Forsell, 1999).

The fact that there are а varied range of motivations has made the task of constructing а complete and coherent definition of what constitutes informing complex. There have been various attempts within the academic literature to construct such definitions.(Ericson and Haggerty, 2000) One of the more sophisticated models has been provided by Greer (2001), who has adopted а resolutely sociological approach to the problem.

Greer develops а four-fold classification of informant types, based upon what he sees as two central variables that structure the relationship between the law enforcement agencies and an informant (Weatheritt, 2002). These variables are the links between the informant and the people about which he/she is informing and the relationship with the policing agency concerned. The two variables can thus be analyzed in terms of whether the informant is an 'insider' or an 'outsider' and whether they are а 'single event informant' or а 'multiple event informant'. Through the application of this system, Greer develops the following classifications: 'The Casual Observer' who is an outside single event informant; 'The Snoop' who is an outside multiple event informant; 'The One Off Accomplice Witness' who is а single event insider; and 'The Informer/Agent Provocateur/Supergrass' who is the inside multiple event informant. In the discussion that follows, while attention is paid to all of these roles, in particular it focuses upon the relationship between the law enforcement agencies and that of the inside multiple event informer. As this is where the moral questions identified previously are most pronounced (Weatheritt, 2002).

Under the police definition а distinction was however made between informants and contacts. A contact is а person, who as а result of their occupational position (i.e. Department of Social Security investigator; teacher), is in а position to supply information which may be of relevance to the law enforcement agencies. This differentiation may reflect an implied moral distinction within the socially constructed police view of social reality, between the social identity of informants and contacts.(Reiner, 1992) The distinction that is made in this respect has many similarities to that established by Ericson (2000) in his study of Canadian detectives, where the classifications of organizational and individual informants were employed. In subsequent work (Ericson and Haggerty, 2000) it has been argued that the role of the contact is an increasingly important source of information for the law enforcement agencies, operating through institutionally maintained, mutually beneficial networks between policing agencies and other public and private organizations. There is also а suggestion that information sharing, at both an intra-organizational and inter-organizational level, is becoming one of the defining characteristics of law enforcement agencies work in the 'information age'(Ericson and Haggerty, 2000).

There is though, а second issue concerning the definition of the informant role that relates to the construction of а particular social identity of the informant, within а broader social context. For some groups in society, the label of 'police informant' has serious perjorative connotations with а distinct social stigma attached to it. There is often а very real threat of violent retribution or communal 'ostracization' for the individual who is identified as an informant. However, this moral approbation is not uniformly distributed throughout all sections of society. It is dependent upon the enacted environment in which the information provider lives and the perceived seriousness of the in Client in question.(Giddens, 2004) Fielding's (2001) analysis has shown that one of the instrumental motivations for the police service's implementation of community policing strategies, was to try to obtain better access to information held by members of the public about crime. Despite such efforts, Fielding's work suggests that only а small number of people regularly act as an information source for the law enforcement agencies (Forsell, 1999).

By way of an example of these types of problems, many of the law enforcement agencies officers in my study commented that when they were carrying out enquiries in relation to а murder, or some other form of serious crime, they felt it was more likely that they would receive а high degree of co-operation from at least some sections of the community, where in less serious cases any such assistance could not be expected. The degree of social censure that exists in relation to 'police informants' may then, be stronger in relation to those individuals who regularly act as information sources for the law enforcement agencies for less serious types of crime. Although, as with many instances of 'social reaction', the strength and sustainability of any forms of vilification are to а large extent а product of the conditions of the social context concerned (Castells, 2004).

The Role of Informants in Law Enforcement

The employment of persons by the state, to infiltrate political organizations, which are perceived as threatening to the security of the established modes of social organization, has а long and disreputable history. This is attested to in the popular adage that espionage constitutes 'the world's second oldest profession'.(Giddens, 2004) In terms of the provision of а law enforcement agencies response to criminal behaviors, the informant is seen as making an important contribution to the prevention and detection of crime, Experience demonstrates that the co-operation of individuals who can readily furnish additional information is essential if law enforcement is to discharge its obligations... (J. Edgar Hoover, 1955)(Reiner, 1992)

These sentiments are echoed in а policy document on informants in the force studied, which in its opening sentence states Informants are and always have been an essential source of police intelligence (Fijnaut, 2001).

And in а subsequent paragraph it says that:

“Provided that the way in which informants are dealt with is properly controlled then their use is encouraged and often essential when seeking to identify and arrest those committing serious crime”. (Reiner, 1992)

The need to try and obtain information about the activities of criminals remains one of the key objectives of modern policing strategies (Ericson, 2000; Hobbs, 1988). Indeed, the essential function of the police crime investigation function can reasonably be defined as an attempt to collect sufficient information to support successful criminal prosecutions. In undertaking such tasks, the law enforcement agencies are confronted with an effective paradox which serves to curtail their potential effectiveness in this area. This is that very few law-abiding citizens are in possession of detailed information about the activities of criminals (Weatheritt, 2002).

Those individuals who do possess such information are the same individuals who often have the least incentive to provide it to the law enforcement agencies. The establishment of lines of communication about these groups through individual informants, is one way the law enforcement agencies can obtain relevant knowledge about criminal activity. The ability of the law enforcement agencies 'to know about crime', is therefore structured by the channels of communication between the police organization and the public, but as will be shown in the next section, these relationships are themselves, structured by economic concerns (Fijnaut, 2001).

Contrary to the popular image of the law enforcement agencies officer as а 'crime-fighter' sui generis, social research has demonstrated that law enforcement agencies work is more concerned with the emergency maintenance of social order (Bittner, 2001; Reiner, 1992). It has been further demonstrated that when the law enforcement agencies do involve themselves in crime-fighting duties, the principal factors determining whether or not the crime will be solved is the amount and quality of information provided by members of the public, as victims, witnesses or informants. Anything approaching orthodox conceptions of 'traditional' detective work is responsible for only between 20-25% of all crime clearances (Greenwood et al., 1977; Reiner, 1992). The importance of informants in the policing of 'the crimes of clandestine markets' (Sheptycki, 1998), such as narcotics and prostitution has long been recognised (Skolnick, 1966; Manning, 1980; Collison, 2001), but as will be discussed, they are also significant for the investigation of other types of offences (Fijnaut, 2001).

Recruiting Informants

As а greater emphasis upon the use of informants has emerged, so police officers have been encouraged to be aware of the potential for developing information-trading relationships with the people whom they come into contact. In the force in which this study was conducted, in а pamphlet issued to all officers entitled 'A Simple Guide to Handling Informants' this was emphasised, The main thing to remember is that every person you deal with, and in particular offenders, should be viewed as а potential informant (Castells, 2004).

With the increased emphasis on the importance of informants in law enforcement agencies work, all officers both uniform and detectives are being encouraged to try and recruit informants. However, due to the practical demands of recruiting and cultivating an informant, most (but not all) of the 'multiple event' informants are 'run' by detectives (Giddens, 2004).

People have а range of different motivations for passing information to the police, Collison's (2001) study of the policing of drug markets found that the majority of informants were motivated to some degree by revenge. (Hubbs, 2000) There were а range of methods by which officers would try and secure the co-operation of an individual. The precise methods that were employed were selected from an array of tactics according to the officer's assessments of the individual concerned and what they believed would be the most effective approach. Ericson (2000) captures this process nicely when he discusses that one of the chief skills of а detective is to be adept at creating 'а shared currency of exchange' with potential informants, It was the detective's task to ascertain some other matter in which the potential informant had а stake and to use this to encourage co-operation. Detectives realized that informants did not typically come forward to assist the police because they were civic-minded. Rather, informants were usually motivated by other agenda with the law enforcement agencies that they felt could be dealt with by co-operating in matters the detectives were concerned with at that moment. The detective's task was to read these motives and to use them. (Ericson, 2000: 117)

Managing Informants

Allied to the changes that have taken place amongst the higher echelons of the police service, there have been accompanying reforms of the internal police regulatory mechanisms relating to the use of informants. (Ericson and Haggerty, 2000) In summary, the changes that have been introduced represent an increasing degree of formal control over the use of informant provided information and the relationship between police officers and their informants. As а whole the process of change could be said to represent, the 'professionalization' of the informant role(Morgan, 2000).

In the force studied, there had been established а clear bureaucratic system for managing informants. The principal division of police labor was split between the roles of 'the Handler', 'the Controller', 'the Divisional Crime Manager', and 'the Informant Registrar'. The Handler is the officer who has direct contact with the informant. Their role can be supplemented by the appointment of а 'Co-Handler' who assists in the direct contacts with the informant. The establishment of this second role is significant because it is indicative of one of the crucial debates that has taken place within the police service concerning the 'ownership' of informants (Castells, 2004).

Prior to the program of modernization, the use and management of informants was very much а reflection of the individualistic and entrepreneurial emphasis that shaped the structure of detective work (see Hobbs, 1988). Informants were а personal resource, attached to individual officers and their identity was jealously guarded. An experienced detective described the prevalent attitudes when he had first entered CIA twenty years ago, they were your 'snout' and if they were any good then you were stupid if you didn't keep them in your corner. In those days having а good snout could almost make or break your career in CIA (Fijnaut, 2001).

There has been а concerted effort within the senior ranks of the police service, to try and move away from this individualistic ethos, towards а more systematic organization of detective work. This has been made concrete in some of the changes that have been introduced in the system for managing informants. The ACPO ranks have been particularly keen to make informants а resource for the whole police service rather than individual officers (Fijnaut, 2001).

The actions of Handlers are now directly supervised by а Controller, who is an officer of at least the rank of Detective Inspector. The Controller is the operational supervisor who is responsible for authorizing meetings between the Handler and Informant and the general control of the relationship between the two. The next link in the chain of command is the Divisional Crime Manager who has overall responsibility for administrative aspects of the 'running' of all informants in а particular area. They are also responsible for authorizing payments to informants in relation to the information they provide.

The Detective Superintendent (Intelligence) is based at force Headquarters with functional responsibility for the management and use of all the informants in the police jurisdiction and is responsible for maintaining а register of informants. These local registers are collated by The National Criminal Intelligence Service, which maintains а national list of all registered police informants in the country. The intention being to be able to co-ordinate the use of informants in different parts of the country when the need arises.

One of the principal aims in introducing these bureaucratic control structures was to encourage а more systematic use of informant provided information and to ensure that it is the police service that are getting the most out of the transactions with informants. Under the old system of informant management, which relied heavily upon the personalities and capacities of the individual handler? There was а sense amongst many senior officers that the law enforcement agencies were open to being manipulated by their informants. The new system is intended to try and ensure that it is the law enforcement agencies who are directing negotiations with informants and not the other way around (Fijnaut, 2001).

Perhaps one of the most significant developments that has taken place in respect of the direction and management of police informants has been the introduction of the concept of 'tasking'. Essentially 'tasking' involves the proactive use of informants to discover information about targeted suspects and their activities. Rather than relying on informants bringing information to the police, the handlers are now sending their informants out with instructions to find out about specific people and crimes. This is not а totally original police practice, but what is significant is that it has been formally established as а recognized use of informants by the police service. That this has taken place is а reflection of the greater role that informants are expected to play in modern crime investigation strategies (Fijnaut, 2001).

In summary, the modernization of the systems for managing police informants had four principal aims. Firstly, the intention was to improve the overall quality of information received from informants and to use it in а more systematic manner. A second aim was to regulate the conduct of police officers and to try and decrease the opportunities available within the handler-informant relationship for police malfeasance and corruption. Linked to this, was а need to try and protect officers from spurious allegations made by informants about police conduct. Finally and possibly most importantly there was а perceived need to try and regulate the activities of the informants themselves. There have been perennial and constant concerns about the fact that many informants are themselves involved in criminal activities and that if not controlled, they are structured within their relationships with the police in such а way as to make significant illicit gains. It was also recognized that measures were needed to stop informants from acting as agent provocateurs.

Using Informant Information

The use of information by the police is obviously contingent upon the quality and relevance of that which is provided. When officers have а 'meet' with an informant they are required to submit а report via the Controller to the Divisional Crime Manager, detailing the circumstances of the meeting and what they were told. As part of this report, the Handler is expected to make an evaluation of the reliability of the information source and the accuracy of the actual information (Hubbs, 2000). However, there are problems in trying to make an evaluation of an individual who is, by the very nature of the role in which they are engaged, skilled in the arts of deceit and concealment.(Giddens, 2004)

The data suggests there are several main uses of informants. An informant could be used to establish the identity of а suspect or they could also be used to suggest possible suspects for а crime. Informants would also be regularly used to collect background information about suspects and interesting information about а crime, which could be used to direct subsequent lines of enquiry. This was particularly the case for the more serious crimes studied in the fieldwork. On murder investigations where а suspect was not rapidly identified by the enquiry team, one of the early instructions that was issued by the Senior Investigating Officer was that all informant handlers should be instructed to contact their informants in order to see if they could provide any relevant knowledge. In terms of more proactive work, which was most often concerned with drug dealing or 'vice' crimes, informant's information was used as а means of selecting which individuals should be targeted for surveillance operations. Other uses of informants included tracing stolen property and for locating weapons and evidence relating to particular offences.

In terms of the integration of informants within the investigative process, broadly speaking it is true to say that the police tended to use them as 'intelligence sources' rather than 'evidence sources' in the courts. A similar trend was found by Ericson (2000), except where informants supplied stolen property; their evidence was generally of the type used by detectives to justify an arrest for the purposes of seeking а suspect confession and other evidence. (Ericson, 2000: 129)

Generally, such intelligence was used as а means of directing lines of enquiry rather than establishing substantive evidential links.

This is а reflection of the problems that informants have been found to pose in the courts, in terms of the validity and reliability of their evidence. There is also the question of how the individual is expected to perform under cross-examination, which is an issue separate from the veracity of their evidence. Additionally, one of the chief concerns of the police has been and continues to be, the necessity of protecting the anonymity of their informants. This has in the past caused legal difficulties and indeed it has been alleged that the law enforcement agencies have several occasions, that it is in their long-term interest to lose specific prosecutions rather than be forced to compromise the identity of а police informant (Audit Commission, 2000). It should be remembered throughout this discussion, that the consequences for а person who is publicly identified as а 'grass' can be serious. (Giddens, 2004)

Payment of Informants

The fact that informants provide information in exchange for some form of reward, rather than because they feel impelled to do so out of а sense of civic duty, renders the whole issue of what informants receive as 'payment' somewhat troubling. Questions about the ethical value of such practices are heightened by а general suspicion that many of those who inform are themselves involved in illegal activities, and that they are effectively being licensed by the police to continue, so long as they supply information about the criminal activities of others. Perhaps one of the most troubling aspects of the police-informant transaction, is where monetary payments are being made. Under such arrangements knowledge about crime has been 'commodified', it is something to be legitimately bought and sold and this is troubling within the context of the law enforcement agencies role in society.

The financial recompense of informants is only one method used by the police to 'pay' them for their services. Indeed, the majority of exchanges that are made do not involve money. However, because of the fact that this form of transaction involves money 'changing hands', there are detailed records maintained by the police for auditing purposes. An examination of these records provides an indication of the 'value' that is attached to criminal knowledge.

The amount of money that is paid to an informant is determined according to the seriousness of the crime and the adjudged 'value' of the information. In the force in the study, guidelines had been established for the appropriate levels of payment. The amounts to be paid were organized in sliding scales according to the relative seriousness of the crime and the detail and accuracy of the information that was provided. In the pamphlet 'A Simple Guide to Handling Informants' issued to officers, handlers are encouraged to tell their informants that the basic principles at work are that 'points make prizes'. The more detailed and accurate the information that they can provide is, the higher the reward money that they are likely to be paid. From the point of view of the police, the less the amount of additional resources that they have to make available for the investigation, the more 'valuable' the information.

As has been suggested previously, informants can have а range of non-pecuniary motives for passing information to the law enforcement agencies; it is the job of the officer handling the informant to exploit these motives to accrue maximum benefit for the police.


Moral Conundrums and Practical Problems

The use of informants rises for the police and society in general, а number of complex moral and practical issues. There seems to be something that is almost antithetical to our general moral standards that someone should profit by the abrogation of their civic responsibilities.

This is supplemented by legal problems relating to the fact that for evidence to be accepted as valid and reliable, there is а general expectation that it should be both voluntarily and freely given. The co-operation of an informant, on the other hand, is dependent upon the provision of sufficient incentives to secure their involvement.

The institutions involved in regulatory and enforcement activities are largely 'information dependent' (Manning, 1977), and as such there is something of а 'Faustian pact' struck between them and their informants. At the heart of which lies the 'Sartrean' moral dilemma: 'can bad means justify а good end?' The significance of this conundrum to the enforcement of law has been drawn out by Klockars (2005a) in his discussion of 'The Dirty Harry' problem. The attempts at increased control and regulation that have been detailed in this paper, show that for the law enforcement agencies, the use of informants is not an either/or debate. Informants are seen as an important element in efficient and effective crime investigation work and as such, the problem of their use is more to do with when should they be used and to what ends?

Kleinig (2001) raises а number of important ethical considerations in relation to the appropriate balance that can be struck between the need to prevent moral and physical harms and other ethical concerns, (informants) may be viewed in an excessively instrumental manner, their weaknesses exploited and their continuing illegal activities overlooked. The fact that they are sometimes victims of 'institutionalized blackmail' can make it virtually impossible for an informant to leave his/her nether world. (Kleinig, 2001: 136)

The endorsement of state sponsored intrusion by private citizens on the behalf of state agencies, raises important questions about the duties and obligations of the state to maintain and promote abstract qualities such as 'social trust'. In а society shaped by pluralistic value structures, an actuarial assessment of the costs and benefits of appropriate social control strategies is rendered essentially problematic.

Such abstract considerations are not the only problems, there are specific practical difficulties routinely encountered by officers 'on the ground' in their dealings with informants. Indeed in the long run, the practical problems involved in 'running' an informant may prove to be of more consequence than any moral concerns that citizens may have.

The drive emanating from ACPO and the Audit Commission has been to make policing more effective and efficient through an increasingly 'intelligence led' ethos. In particular, they have concentrated their attentions on the proactive identification of the small number of individuals who are responsible for а large number of all criminal offences. However, research in this area seems to suggest that this is considerably more difficult in practice than one might reasonably suspect (see Morgan and Newburn, 2000). In respect of the police use of informants, there is а suggestion that it is а particularly useful strategy in the policing of 'vice' and other crimes of clandestine markets. But in the grand scheme of things, the actual contribution to crime detections made by informants needs to be viewed with some caution.

Maguire and John (2001) collected empirical data on the use of police informants. In the force in which they conducted their study, over а one month period, only 2% of the officers questioned reported that they had consulted а registered informant. In only 25% of these consultations did an officer report that useful information had resulted. Similarly, when the authors asked the respondents what were the key factors in their crime detections, only 2% reported that an informant had played а central role. The authors of the Audit Commission report themselves reflected upon the fact that of the detectives they studied 43% had no registered informants, 22% had one registered informant and only 17% had five or more registered informants (Audit Commission, 2000).

Although 'on paper' the use of informants has many apparent advantages, the fact that they have not been relied upon to а great extent by the law enforcement agencies, is а reflection of experientially grounded problems. While many officers 'on the ground' appreciated that good informants were beneficial to police work, many also expressed the notion that informants were very often а source of trouble, Exploitation of the system by informers can be а major problem, and the frequent and serious problems they can cause make them the weakest link in undercover systems. But most undercover operations must rely to some degree on individuals in the criminal milieu for information, technical advice, 'clients', contacts and introductions. (Marx, 2005:110)

The officers questioned in this study were of the opinion that much of the information that was passed to them was too unreliable and that informants would sometimes try to exploit their relationship. Particular reservations were expressed about а number of informants who it was suspected were participating in serious criminal activity. Concerns were also raised about those who it was thought might be effectively acting as agent provocateurs in order to boost their relationship with the police or their financial recompense.(Reiner, 1992) As Morgan and Newburn (2000) suggest, once one progresses beyond the somewhat naive and simplistic cost-benefit analysis upon which the Audit Commission conclusions are based. A host of other economic and non-economic costs relating to the recruitment, cultivation and running of an informant become apparent. In particular, the potential impact of these types of activity upon the legitimacy of the law enforcement agencies and the criminal justice system as а whole, in the eyes of the public, requires careful consideration.

One problem that may arise as а result of an increased use of informants, over the longer term, is that it may act as а disincentive for people to supply information to the police out of а sense of civic duty. The police could find themselves instigating а 'feed-back loop' effect, where they find that increasingly they are having to pay to receive information. The more they do this, the more it becomes an accepted and expected practice (Giddens, 2004).

A case observed in the fieldwork provides а good example of how this 'feedback' loop can work. The case concerned the murder of an elderly woman. The investigation had been running for several weeks without much progress, when а decision was taken by the Police Authority to announce through the media, that they would provide а substantial reward for information leading to the arrest of the offender. The day after the announcement was made, an informant came forward and provided police with the name of the offender and where he could be found. Further evidence to support this analysis is provided by а report in the Observer newspaper about а murder investigation ('Search for justice comes at а price.' 23/11/2000).

It is alleged in the report that the police told the victim's family that further progress in the investigation was dependent upon the provision of а reward for information being made available, to assist the police in the investigation. In two of the more high-profile murders in my study, it was certainly the case that the local police authority made а $10 000 reward available, in order to encourage people to come forward with information about the crimes.

The above examples could be taken as an indictment of the effectiveness of paying informants. On the other hand it also provides an indication of how an increased willingness to pay for information could provide а powerful incentive for individuals to withhold important information until such time as а reward is available (Giddens, 2004).

Individuals have their own reasons as to why they choose to pass information to the police and it is often difficult for the officers receiving the material to make an accurate evaluation of the information. In another murder case examined in my study, the extent to which 'bad' or 'deliberately falsified' information can undermine the overall effectiveness and efficiency of an investigation was demonstrated. The case concerned the shooting of а second-hand car salesman and his wife. Two weeks into the investigation а police source suggested that the investigation should be directed towards researching the links between the deceased and а group of travelers. The informant was thought to be reliable and for the next ten weeks several detectives were engaged in pursuing this lead. It was only when the results of some forensic tests became available that it was realized that the travelers were irrelevant to the enquiry. Eventually, after an extended investigation stretching over several months another prime suspect was identified who was, at а later date, convicted of the murders.

Part of the reason that the new management guidelines were introduced was to protect handlers from spurious allegations of wrongdoing. However, based upon my data, it seems that tightened regulations on informant usage can only ever be partially effective. Although officers are instructed to register all informants many of them openly admitted to having contact with 'casual' or un-registered informants. One of the main reasons that were given as to why they didn't register these sources was that the information providers did not want to become too involved and they were very keen to protect their anonymity. The desire to avoid being labeled as а police informant was for many of far greater concern than any reward or benefit that they might receive. Although tight security is maintained on the informant records, in the face of the likely retribution if their identity should be compromised, they were not willing to take the risk.

This desire to protect one's anonymity may provide а partial explanation about the popularity of anonymous telephone services such as Crime-stoppers, where people can confidentially phone in information that they wish to pass to the police. In 2000 there was an 8% increase on the previous year of the number of calls made to Crime-stoppers in USA. Of the total, almost half of the calls were in relation to drugs offences. In the police area studied, in 2000 113 arrests were made arising from calls to Crime-stoppers. But as the Audit Commission (2000) suggests the popularity and effectiveness of such schemes may in the longer-term discourage people from becoming registered informants.

There is also а certain cultural resistance within the law enforcement agencies from registering all informants. Following the administrative procedures requires а substantial amount of paper work, which police officers have always been keen to avoid. Maintaining personal control over an informant continues as а practical strategy, because although detective work is progressively more team based, there is still а feeling of the need to maintain one's personal standing within the department and occupational culture. This problem appears to be of particular relevance in respect of the sharing of information between different forces and high status specialist units and divisional detectives. (Ericson and Haggerty, 2000)


The increased emphasis being placed upon the informant role within law enforcement systems is а result of а confluence of factors. Chief amongst these is the requirement to provide public-sector services in line with increasingly tight budgetary controls. However, obtaining а realistic sense of the role of informants in law enforcement agencies work is beset by а range of problems. It is certainly not in the police interests to attract too much publicity to this area of their work. There are after all, substantive practical concerns about secrecy and protecting the identity of their informants. In addition to these reasons, there are more expressive concerns linked to the maintenance of а certain symbolic imagery of policing.

To place too much emphasis on this aspect of policing would run contrary to а deeply ingrained cultural expectation, which holds that the activity of the law enforcement agencies can effectively prevent and detect crime. The trouble for the police is that if they admit to being overly reliant upon informants, then this has implicit connotations of the criminal community being effectively self-policing (Vinten, 2004).

In terms of the symbolic construction of police authority, the question becomes to what extent the law enforcement agencies can afford to be seen to be doing 'deals' with criminals? There is а manifest danger that а sense 'that there is something of the dragon in the dragon slayer' may prove detrimental to their status. To be seen to be engaged in rationally based transactions, as а means of eliciting information about criminality, where the underpinning logic is simply а need for efficient policing, may not be morally acceptable for society and may prove damaging to the public legitimacy of the law enforcement agencies (Vinten, 2004).

As the state institution charged with the regulation of social conduct, the law enforcement agencies have an important role to play in the construction and maintenance of moral boundaries. Through their involvement in the formal process of the identification, capture and punishment of those individuals who contravene moral and legal standards. The police role is structured as part of а particular form of social ritual, around which and through which, important social values are enacted. The manifestation of social control strategies by the state is not solely an instrumental concern, but also involves important expressive functions (Garland, 1990). It codifies the social and moral order and renders it meaningful for participants. The current developments in respect of the police use of informants which have been detailed in this paper would seem to suggest that such issues are in danger of being neglected at the expense of purely instrumental concerns. If the police wish to remain as а valued social institution, then they have to recognize that their social function is not oriented simply around instrumental factors, but necessarily involves а range of symbolic meanings.

The law enforcement agencies have to а certain extent always relied upon their links with the 'criminal fraternity' as а means of fulfilling their social role. In the light of rising crime rates, falling clear-up rates, and demands for increased efficiency, the police are looking to 'intelligence led' policing to provide solutions. However, society is changing and the popular mores concerning the achievement of social control are in а state of transition.

In а 'post-traditional society' (Giddens, 2004), in the light of а number of serious miscarriages of justice, the law enforcement agencies are no longer unquestioningly accepted as а bastion of social order. Under such conditions, the question remains as to whether it is acceptable for the police to seek to develop and formalize their relationships with informants, in the fashion that is being followed.


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