Drug Informants: Motives, Methods, and Management

By Lee, Gregory, D. | The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, September 1993 | Go to article overview

Drug Informants: Motives, Methods, and Management


Lee, Gregory, D., The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin


Law enforcement agencies today face the tremendous challenge of combating drugs on the street. To meet this challenge, they must conduct investigations into the activities of organized drug dealers. With few exceptions, these investigations involve the use of confidential informants (CIs).

Agencies continue to use CIs because they help to solve crimes that may remain unsolved without their assistance. Indeed, relationships between drug investigators and their informants frequently determine the success or failure of an agency's drug enforcement program.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has learned through experience that managing drug informants is, at best, challenging. But, if left unchecked, the results may be disastrous. CIs can be both the best friends and worst enemies of the investigators who must deal with them on a regular basis.

Informants in drug enforcement are unique among criminal informants, and perhaps, the most difficult to manage. However, investigators who know what motivates individuals to become informants can manage them more effectively. This article explains these motivational factors and outlines the steps law enforcement agencies can take to ensure the successful management of drug informants.

MOTIVATIONAL FACTORS

Like most people, informants need motivation to produce. In fact, the more motivated they are, the more likely they are to apply themselves to the task at hand and remain committed to achieving success. Therefore, by identifying an informant's true motives, an investigator greatly enhances the successful management of an investigation.

Informants commonly voice a specific motive for providing assistance. However, as a case proceeds and a relationship with an investigator develops, other reasons may surface. Some of the more common motivational factors encountered by drug enforcement investigators are fear, revenge, money, repentance, and altruism.

First, the most frequently encountered motivational factor may be the CI's fear of punishment for criminal acts. Severe criminal penalties tend to increase the number of persons wishing to cooperate with drug enforcement authorities.

Informants may also fear their criminal associates. Individuals wrongly accused by drug dealers of being informants may then become informants for self-preservation, money, or both.

Next, informants frequently cooperate with the Government to seek revenge against their enemies. Jealousy may also prompt these acts of vengeance.

In addition, some individuals provide information or services for money. These money-motivated informants, known as mercenaries, are usually the most willing to follow the directions of their handlers. Mercenaries frequently possess other motives as well.

Furthermore, repentance can be a motivating factor. Informants often claim they cooperate in order to repent for past crimes. However, this is seldom their only motive for cooperating.

Finally, some individuals are motivated by a sense of altruism. People with professional obligations or feelings of responsibility frequently provide information to the police. Examples of altruistic informants include airline ticket agents and private mail service carriers.

PROBLEM INFORMANTS

Some informants have personalities that make them difficult, if not impossible, to manage. These individuals may also have questionable motives for offering their services to a law enforcement agency. Investigators who misjudge the true motives of informants experience tremendous control problems. This can create safety problems and place department resources and personnel in jeopardy. Therefore, each time informants offer information, investigators should question their motives. Furthermore, investigators should avoid recruiting certain types of individuals, if possible.

Egotistical Informants

These commonly encountered informants may not have received positive reinforcement from their parents or schoolmates when growing up. …

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