By: Lou Savelli
Properly Managing Criminal Informants while Protecting Yourself,
the Informant, the Community and Your Agency
Dealing with informants can be a risky business! Some informants, by their mere nature, can pose many problems to an inexperienced and untrained law enforcement officer and a host of other problems for the officer’s agency. While the utilization of informants are a necessary and useful tool to enhance law enforcement efforts, agencies need to provide narrowly focused training that targets informant management to provide officers with the knowledge, skills and street smarts to effectively handle criminals who are, quite often, experts at manipulating the system as well as people and even law enforcement officers.
Like in the title of this article, “You can dance with the devil but don’t let him lead”, I am, by no means, inferring that all informants are devils. I am also not naïve enough to say that all informants are not capable of wrongdoing while working in that capacity. To clarify, all informants pose a potential for problems and the best way to keep them from becoming problems is by implementing controls and maintaining these controls for as long as you are working with them. In fact, I use an acronym, C.O.N.T.R.O.L.S., to help my law enforcement colleagues remember effective practices for dealing with informants.
Besides using C.O.N.T.R.O.L.S, effective informant management should include a comprehensive training program. The program should include several focused training modules to provide law enforcement officers with the tools needed to cultivate, manage and deploy informants in a safe, controlled and legal manner. These training modules should mirror the disciplines necessary for effective informant management. Effective informant management must involve, or provide, (1) a clear understanding of informants, (2) cultivating informants, (3) registering informants, (4) establishing the credibility and integrity of informants, (5) vetting informants, (6) managing informant incentives and compensation, (7) training informants, (8) deployment, (9) the creation and adherence to comprehensive informant management policy and procedures, (10) administrative duties and paperwork, (11) identifying problem informants, (12) officer integrity and professionalism, (13) informant safety, (14) officer safety, and (15) terminating a relationship with an informant.
A clear understanding of informants
Any law enforcement officer dealing with informants in any capacity must have a clear understanding of informants, their capabilities, limitations, legal guidelines and potential for problems. Law enforcement officers must be able to identify the various personality types of informants and their motivations. Understanding leads to safeguards and protection of the individual law enforcement officer, fellow officers and the agency’s policies. Informants are complex individuals who often ride the line between the law and criminals and choose to balance their lives within these realms for their own benefit but must be handled properly by a law enforcement handler who intricately understands the informant’s limitations.
The most common type of informant is the criminal informant. The criminal informant is most often cultivated by a law enforcement officer needing the services of an informant to uncover criminal activity or infiltrate a criminal organization. This often starts with the arrest of a criminal and the careful cultivation by a law enforcement officer through interviewing, debriefing or simple conversation. This important secondary contact is, quite often, the most honest and important evaluation a law enforcement officer will make of the informant. During the cultivation phase, law enforcement officers can assess the informant’s attitude toward the criminal justice system, his acceptance of responsibility for his actions and his willingness to assist law enforcement in the endeavor to uncover and combat crime.
In order to properly manage informants, and to provide a layer of confidentiality, law enforcement officers should enter the informant into an official registration procedure. Here, the informant is confidentially, but fully, documented as entering into an agreement to work with law enforcement. This agreement is usually part of a cooperation agreement or memorandum of understanding between the law enforcement officer(s), the prosecutor, other agencies such as parole and probation, and the informant for a specified benefit. The benefit for the informant can range from court consideration of a reduced or vacated sentence, credit with parole or probation, cash payments or some other benefit within the realm of cooperation. By registering informants, a law enforcement officer is documenting his use and establishing the official nature of the informant-law enforcement relationship. With registration comes a myriad of follow-up documentation and procedures.
Establishing the credibility and integrity of informants
Before any informant should be utilized, his credibility and integrity must be established. Even in the beginning stages of dealing with an informant, potential dangers exist for the law enforcement officer warranting the careful confirmation of the credibility and integrity of the informant. The informant’s credibility can be established by the information provided. Corroboration of the informant’s information is a good start. The informant’s ability to be forthcoming with information enhances his credibility and his willingness to accept responsibility for his past actions and provide information into his accomplices can only add to this credibility. To show integrity, the informant can be tested as well as questioned with difficult issues. How the informant reacts to these issues can validate his integrity.
By vetting informants, the law enforcement officer will be conducting an extensive background check but taking extreme caution to avoid exposing the informant’s willingness to cooperate. A thorough vetting procedure should include, but is not limited to, criminal history, Probation/Parole Status, employment history, family history, online activity, financial background, interview previous arresting officers and handlers and validating all personal and other information provided by the informant. Vetting the informant should also include an evaluation of the informant’s ability to willingly provide information without much prodding by a law enforcement officer.
Managing informant incentives and compensation
Informants only work to benefit themselves, or someone close to them. It is important for law enforcement officers to carefully manage informant incentives and compensation pursuant to cooperation. Some criminal informants will try to obtain more benefits than are commensurate with their cooperation, often, because of the mere nature of who they are and what they do (crime). Informant incentives and compensation should be narrowly limited to the cooperation agreement set forth by the prosecutor, informant handler and/or law enforcement supervisor during the beginning of the cooperation. This may have been agreed upon with the approval of the informant’s attorney. Unless approval by the prosecutor, or special circumstances exist, the handling law enforcement officer should not exceed or diminish incentives or compensation to the informant. Of course, when the informant is working outside of, or beyond, a cooperation agreement with the court or the prosecutor, the law enforcement officer or supervisor has control over the management of incentives and compensation. In that case, fairness should be the guide.
To ensure informants act according to instructions and procedure, especially in the performance of duty where tactical operations will result or undercover officers are accompanying informants, careful training must be conducted. While informants do not attend academies or sit through many hours of classroom training, detailed instruction must be conducted by the handler and handler’s supervisor with the informant. The only way to ensure the informant is fully aware of the methods to accomplish his tasks and follow proper procedures, is for the law enforcement handler to train the informant frequently and question the informant on his knowledge of the procedures. Another part of this training involves monitoring the informant during undercover performance, through physical and electronic surveillance to verify adherence to instructions and proper performance. A training record of instructions provided to the informant can be maintained on the confidential informant file.
Deploying informants during undercover assignments should be taken seriously, whether the informant will be accompanying an undercover officer or acting alone. Informant deployment must be carefully and meticulously planned for the success, integrity and safety of specific operations and overall investigations. Deploying informants, obviously, is not the same as deploying undercover officers. Informants can easily become paranoid, often act unpredictably, deviate from the tactical operation plan and potentially can compromise the safety and integrity of an investigation. The law enforcement handler must carefully train the informant on deployment rules and take corrective action when procedures are not followed. Informant deployment, in the beginning, should be limited to simple actions requiring minimal risk and gradually increased to more difficult tasks with greater risk as long as the informant has continually displayed integrity and the ability to follow instructions.
Creation and adherence to comprehensive informant management policy and procedures
In today’s law enforcement environment, especially among critics of law enforcement efforts against drug trafficking, much criticism has been given to the lack, or incompleteness, of policy and procedure relating to informants. Some of these critics may be correct in their beliefs since some agencies lack proper or complete policy and procedures relating to informants. The most effective way to ensure proper management of informants is to create (if policy and procedures are not already in place) and follow comprehensive and concise policy and procedures that provide detailed instructions for dealing with informants. Such policy needs to address issues from interviewing potential informants to terminating problematic informants and everything in between as well as specific procedures to follow for each issue.
Administrative duties and paperwork
Managing informants is not all fun and games. It must involve careful and confidential documentation of the informant’s personal and historical information as well as documentation of the activities, interviews and initial reports validating the informant’s journey from defendant, or other, to cooperator. Registration forms, informant intelligence interviews and corroboration reports must be completed and filed with all the previous documentation in the informant file. Any contact, phone conversation, payment or training must be documented along with arrests, seizure of evidence or informant shortcomings. Most agencies require the usual informant documentation forms be completed and follow-up reports written with any pertinent activity or information that arises. Law enforcement handlers can easily open themselves up to scrutiny, or disciplinary action, when administrative duties or required paperwork is not filed in a timely manner, or worse, not filed at all.
Identifying problem informants
When you look at all informants as having the potential for becoming problematic, it will be easier to identify problem informants or actions or omissions inconsistent with an honest informant who is following procedures. There are, however, many indicators of an informant who can pose difficulties in handling or help identify informant integrity issues. To only name a few, informant actions that are indicative of posing problems or potential problems are: the informant is not forthcoming with information; the informant is caught lying about an activity or information; the informant attempts to dictate how his deployment will occur; the informant purposely omits information pertinent to his activities; the informant is uncharacteristically not paranoid about his identity being known to others; the informant is inexplicably late for meetings with his handler and the informant does not have an explanation for his inability to report to his handler. Any indicator should be carefully investigated and the informant, if warranted, should be placed on ‘administrative hold’ until the investigation is complete.
Officer Integrity and Professionalism
Most, if not all criminal informants emerge from a world filled with lies, lack of integrity and a lack of honor. One of the two most important traits any law enforcement officer dealing with informants must display, at all times, is integrity. The other is professionalism. They should, of course, go hand in hand or be interchangeable. Establishing in the beginning, and continuing until the end, that the law enforcement officer managing any informant has integrity and acts with professionalism will send a clear message to the informant. That message states the officer is honest, plays by the rules (and laws) and will not compromise his integrity for anyone. It also states that the officer is a consummate professional who follows department policy, expects the truth and documents every pertinent action, good or bad. Experience has told me on many occasions, informants prefer to work with a law enforcement officer who shows integrity and professionalism. The informant knows what he is expected to do and understands that the officer is going to protect the informant’s identity. He also knows the officer’s commitment to the safety, and confidentiality, of the informant will not waiver.
It is the responsibility of any law enforcement officer involved in the management of informants to maintain the safety of the informant at all times, even if it means to protect the informant from himself. It is important to remember that informants are not undercover law enforcement officers and they will not act like law enforcement officers in similar situations. Their paranoia or undisciplined nature leads to mistakes and failure to follow procedures. From my experience, informant safety is usually compromised by the informant himself. Of the most common mistakes leading to informant danger is deviation from the tactical operation plan. When an informant does something outside the prescribed plan, it can throw off the entire operation. It can range from an increased potential for danger to the informant or back-up teams to a situation leading to the injury or death of the informant. Informant deviation from the tactical operation plan can cause surveillance personnel to lose sight of the informant or cause communication between the informant and the back-up teams to be cut off or hindered. Informant safety is also a concern due to the nature of crime and criminals. Protecting the informant from a criminal target starts with proper planning and explicit instructions on how to follow the plan. Another part of informant safety is to protect the informant’s identity and exposure to anyone who is not critical to your tactical operations. However, anyone who is involved in the tactical execution of your operations must be able to identify your informant in case the ‘you know what’ hits the fan and they have to move in and save his butt!
Never lose sight that the actions of the informant can greatly increase the exposure to danger of the handler, the supervisor and back-up teams. When the informant is placed in a dangerous or life-threatening situation, or places himself in such a situation, it is the law enforcement officers in that back-up team who will come to the rescue, often, at great risk to their own lives. Officer safety must be the responsibility of everyone involved. The informant, the handler, the supervisor and the back-up teams must take every meeting, deployment or contact with the informant as a potential for danger. Planning, training, integrity, alertness and accountability on everyone’s part will ensure the safety of all concerned.
Terminating a relationship with an informant
There comes a time in every law enforcement officer’s career, for those who manage informants, to terminate the informant for a variety of reasons. Mostly, informants are terminated, or deactivated, for lack of productivity, lying or criminal activity. When this occurs, it is good practice, and maybe good policy, to do so in a dignified and professional manner. Informants who have not lived up to their end of the cooperation agreement, to whatever degree, should no longer be used as active informants. Terminate the informant face to face and inform him of your reasons for the termination. Be clear, concise, complete and committed. Don’t let the informant manipulate you into changing your mind. They are experts at manipulating people. Your conclusion, based on facts and the informant’s performance, or lack thereof, is your motivation and the will to cover your own butt, should be your guide. Any informant who does not produce results, lies to his handler, or commits crimes is probably guilty of all three. This person is an informant you need to get out of your life, quickly and officially. Document it immediately.
Informants, if properly managed, are an effective tool used to minimize the risk to fellow law enforcement officers, especially undercover officers, and can greatly enhance enforcement and investigative efforts. Truthfully, much of the problem-minimization with informants lies in the hands of the informant handler and his or her supervisor. Firm, effective and legal guidelines imposed upon the informant will save mounds of trouble and volumes of paperwork as well as saving lives. In short, when it comes to informants, C.O.N.T.R.O.L.S. are the law enforcement officer’s best friend.
And remember, you can dance with the devil, but don’t let him lead!
TRANSNATIONAL ORGANIZED CRIME: SERIOUSLY AFFECTING THE SAFETY OF AMERICA BUT ARE THEY PARTLY RESPONSIBLE FOR THE POOR ECONOMY?
By: Lou Savelli
Gangs, Drug Cartels, Human Traffickers, Human Smugglers, Terrorists, Narcoterrorists, new Mafiosos and other criminals operating between America and foreign countries have become the changing face of crime in America. Most likely, you don’t have to look much further than your next door neighbor. Criminals who operate in multiple nations are making America their playground and even sponging off the system in more ways than you can imagine. Profits amassed by these dangerous criminals tally to an excess of billions of dollars each year and their violence has become evident on television and in newspapers from cities and towns across the nation. Although most of us are, essentially, immigrants, these offenders give new meaning to the words ‘illegal’ and ‘alien’.
The National Institute of Justice defines Transnational Organized Crime as “Organized crime involving the planning and execution of illicit business ventures by groups or networks of individuals working in more than one country. These criminal groups use systematic violence and corruption to achieve their goals. Crimes commonly include money laundering; human smuggling; cyber crime; and trafficking of humans, drugs, weapons, endangered species, body parts, or nuclear material.” NIJ further states, “…Transnational crime ring activities weaken economies and financial systems and undermine democracy.”
Transnational Organized Criminals (TOC) are plaguing American neighborhoods across the country at an alarming pace. It is especially problematic in the Midwest where foreign nationals from countries like Somalia, Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Southeast Asia, Peru, Bosnia and the Ukraine are immigrating. Of course, the vast majority of these immigrants have come to America in search of an honest and better life but, like most immigrant nationalities, there are always a few bad apples and some of those apples are members of transnational organized criminal organizations. The toll on the US Government and the already weakened local law enforcement agencies tasked to combat these criminals, is overwhelming.
On a recent trip to Nebraska, an Omaha Narcotics detective told me about Mexican drug traffickers they recently arrested after a year-long investigation. During their raids, they seized drugs with a street value of a million dollars and over five dozen firearms. I was amazed how these drug traffickers apparently had no problem acquiring weapons and setting up shop in the heartland of America. One detective involved in the investigation said he was largely unaware of the reach of such transnational criminals involved in the drug trade until he learned about them at a training class he attended. The investigation’s reach and magnitude was a shock even for the seasoned detective. “Just when I thought I had seen everything during my career, I come across such dangerous transnational criminals in my own backyard”, he added.
A short time later, Cleveland Police also arrested three members of a Palestinian drug organization that may be linked to a terrorist group that has cells in Palestine and the US. In all three cases, Nebraska and the two cases in Cleveland, police assert much of the money is funneled out of the US into foreign countries to fund drug cartel and terrorist operations as well as their violence. One Cleveland Detective who worked undercover on these investigations admitted he was shocked at the level of violence these criminals were willing to reach. He said, “These violent transnational criminals who are invading America have nothing to lose.”
Russian Organized criminals, operating between Eastern European countries and the United States, have been victimizing American citizens for decades. Today, these criminals are more brazen and prolific than ever. They deal in drugs, prostitution and human trafficking and often kidnap their victims to force them into both. According to one US Postal Inspector, Russian Organized Crime uses drug addicted immigrants from Eastern European countries to steal mail from residential mailboxes in many local communities across the US. He also said mail theft is a common crime used by Middle Eastern criminals and Middle Eastern terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda to develop funding sources for terrorist operations targeting America. He said, “These thieves prefer to steal checks and credit cards but will use personal information from the mail to commit identity-related crimes.”
In the case of Russian Organized criminals, sites like Craigslist and the entire internet is their playground. Such organized criminal groups, like Vor v Zakone, translated from Russian to mean, ‘Thieves in Law’, is the Russian version of the Mafia. Though less violent than in the past, they continue to victimize the American people and the citizens from other countries while they travel between the US and Eastern Europe. Identity Theft, the sale of bogus International Driver’s Licenses, fuel scams and staged accidents score millions of American dollars in profits each year for these transnational criminals. They frequently travel between America and other nations when they fear arrest or prosecution. Many return later using a new foreign identity.
According to Alfredo Kuilan, President of Caetra Consulting Inc, a New York based security consulting firm that provides security services in the US and overseas, many foreign criminals who operate between the US and other countries even target their victims by breaching wireless networks of American homes and stealing identities from personal computers and laptops. He stresses the use of firewalls, both hardware and software, and wireless encryption to guard against being victimized. Mr Kuilan added, “These transnational criminals drive around American neighborhoods with WiFi trackers and identify unsecured wireless networks. They call this technique ‘Wardriving’ and do it, predominantly, during the day in working class neighborhoods while most people are at work.”
Recently, in Brooklyn, New York, one M18 gang member was killed by another gang member from his own gang. His body was discovered in the weeds along a popular beach area used frequently by local parents and their children for kite flying and dog-walking. Both the victim and the murderer were members of a transnational organized criminal organization operating between Mexico and the US.
During a recent conversation I had with ‘F.M’., a former police officer from Honduras who worked undercover for two years and infiltrated MS13, he said “Central American gangs come across the US border without worry and use America to commit crimes. When it gets hot, like when they kill someone, they go back! Many return again and again to sell drugs and rob people at gunpoint because money is abundant in the US.” ‘F.M., who was forced to flee that country with his family when he found himself and his wife in the midst of a violent attack by the gang, warns, “The American people are only experiencing the beginning stages of the threat from these gangs. It is going to get much, much worse!”
Law enforcement officials warn that Drug Cartels are active in over 200 American cities and places like Atlanta, Georgia have become a hub for Cartel operations.
Police in Phoenix and other cities across Arizona are exhausted by the crime and violence connected to these drug cartels. In fact, because of this, Phoenix is now known as the kidnapping and home invasion capitol of America.
‘Snakeheads’, the street name for the vicious human smugglers doing business, today, between the United States and China who prey on the hopes, dreams and desperation of poor Chinese people. They make promises of a better life in America but offer it at a high monetary cost and quite often, a higher human cost. As far back as June 6th, 1993, a steamer called Golden Venture ran aground along the coast of New York City. It awakened us, not only to the desperate attempts made by Chinese citizens to escape the exploitation of their homeland, but also to the frightening truth that some of these snakeheads live among us. In a quiet section of Brooklyn, NY, a neighbor of a pair of snakeheads belonging to the Fuk Ching, a highly organized and violent transnational criminal gang, told the police how his neighbors were “quiet and friendly”. He was shocked when police raided his neighbor’s home to free a dozen Chinese victims whom were smuggled into the country and held for ransom at gunpoint by the gang members. The victim’s families were being forced to pay the equivalent of $30,000 US above and beyond the same amount they had previously paid to the snakeheads for transporting their loved ones to America after promises of safe passage, a job and housing.
These transnational organized criminals that operate between the United States and foreign countries are not, by any means, limited to street gangs, snakeheads, drug cartels, Russian Organized Crime, Middle Eastern Organized Criminal Organizations and Foreign terrorists. America has become the proverbial ‘well’ for foreign criminals to siphon profits from unsuspecting American citizens, businesses, immigrants and even the US government. Even the insurance industry is being bilked of millions of dollars each year by crimes from ‘staged accidents’ and insurance fraud perpetrated by these criminals.
Our nation’s law enforcement officers dealing with the everyday violence are facing a frightening trend in line of duty deaths at the hands of some of these criminals. In 2010, there was a 37% increase in gun murders of police officers according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, an organization that lists law enforcement line of duty deaths. (Their website, Officer Down Memorial Page can be found at www.odmp.org). This increase in gun related murders of law enforcement officers marks the second year in a row of such a trend. In January 2011, during one 24 hour period, two police officers and a Deputy US Marshall in St Petersburg, FL were shot, four police officers were shot in a Detroit police station, one police officer was shot in Oregon and two police officers were shot in Port Orchard, WA for a total of ten officers shot. Four of the ten officers shot died. Craig Floyd, Chairman of the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial Fund attributes a rise in officer deaths to budget cutbacks. Regarding these cutbacks, Floyd states, “…budget cutbacks …are putting officers at risk!”
It is exceedingly apparent this country is dealing with its deadliest and most difficult criminals ever with the increasing threat from transnational organized crime. With the porous US borders, increasing border violence, proliferation of drug cartel activity in so many neighborhoods across the US, law enforcement officials I spoke with are highly concerned about their own safety, the security of our country and the safety of its citizens.
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