confidential informant | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction / Policing

A confidential informant is a person who secretly provides information to law enforcement, often in return for money or an agreement not to prosecute the informant.

In the context of law enforcement, a confidential informant is an individual who voluntarily provides information to law enforcement agencies without revealing their identity to the general public or even to the suspects they are informing on. Confidential informants are often used by law enforcement agencies to gather information on criminal activity that would be otherwise difficult to obtain through traditional investigative techniques.

The use of confidential informants is a long-standing practice in law enforcement, and it is governed by a set of legal and ethical guidelines designed to protect the interests of both the informant and law enforcement agencies. Confidential informants may be used in a wide range of criminal investigations, from drug trafficking to organized crime to terrorism.

Confidential informants are often recruited by law enforcement agencies because of their unique access to criminal organizations or because they have personal knowledge of criminal activity. These individuals may be friends or associates of the suspects, or they may have been involved in criminal activity themselves. In many cases, the informant is motivated by financial gain or a desire for leniency in their own criminal case. Law enforcement agencies may offer cash payments or other incentives to encourage informants to come forward with information.

The use of confidential informants is not without controversy, however. Critics argue that the use of informants can be fraught with ethical and legal challenges. For example, informants may be motivated by a desire to manipulate law enforcement or to settle personal scores rather than a desire to help bring criminals to justice. Additionally, the use of confidential informants can raise concerns about entrapment and the reliability of the information provided.

To address these concerns, law enforcement agencies typically have strict guidelines in place for the use of confidential informants. These guidelines often require that informants be thoroughly vetted and trained and that they be closely monitored by law enforcement throughout their involvement in an investigation. Additionally, informants are typically required to sign agreements that outline the terms of their cooperation with law enforcement and that provide certain protections to the informant, such as assurances that their identity will remain confidential.

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Last Modified: 04/12/2023

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