Informants are people who provide information about events they witnessed or about other people to federal agencies such as the FBI and the police (Bollas & Sundelson, 2011). An informant is a term widely used in law enforcement to signify people who offer confidential information about crimes, hence the name ‘criminal informant’. This term is also used in other areas such as academia, politics, and industry to mean different things. In the legal structure, the information from the secret informants may be used as a testimonial in the court of law. Federal agencies such as the anti-terrorism police unit, the police and the FBI have increased the use of informants, especially with rising cases of organized crimes. For instance, in the United States, the criminal justice system has better techniques of using informants in investigating crimes even without the awareness of the public. It is necessary to point out that informants are mostly used in fighting organized crimes. Consequently, the government has established policies on the use of informants by agencies such as the FBI and police to guide on how they dispense their duties (Berger, 2012). Even though informants play a crucial role in controlling crimes, the policy has its negative effects on the public and the criminal justice system.
History and Development
According to some scholars, the use of informants has been a common practice from time immemorial. For instance, some scholars trace this to the times of Jesus Christ when He was betrayed by Judas Iscariot. Therefore, the use of informants had been in existence for centuries ago even when there were no contemporary legal systems. In those days, informants were influential people as they helped to relay vital information and to some extent enhance peace in the society even without comprehensive legal systems. With the advent and development of legal systems, the use of informants was also evolving (Bloom, 2002). The use of informants has increased in the last few decades because of the increased war on drugs, They are crucial in the war on drugs since it has become an international issue, prompting many government agencies in different countries to initiate efforts towards fighting the vice. Therefore, the rampant drug cases have facilitated the use of informants. For this reason, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has largely used informants since its inception in 1974. On the other hand, other criminal activities in society, such as gangs and terrorism, have provoked the use of informants. The reliance on informants by several law enforcing bodies has facilitated the creation of policies regarding their use. This is crucial as it ensures that there is accountability and transparency. In some countries, this has become a trading activity as informants are given rewards when the information they give is found reliable. Additionally, the use of informants has fully been incorporated in the criminal justice system, whereby there are guidelines that spell out how informants should be handled professionally and their rights (Schuler, Rehbein & Cramer, 2002). With increased research, it is expected that the area will experience considerable growth, boosted with technological advancements.
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Use of informants is usually geared towards achieving different goals in the community. One of these goals is to ensure that organized crimes are mitigated. Research shows that there are different ways the community can be used in addressing criminal activities in the society. For instance, in drug dealings, those already in jail for drug related crimes can be used to help the police find other criminals (Brown, 2001). Therefore, it is clear that informants are crucial in drugs control in the society since they help the police to make street searches for drug criminals. Apparently, cases of drug use and trafficking have reduced due to the informants’ information.
Use of informants is also aimed at helping the police in investigations. Since the information that informants give to the police cannot be relied on to make judgments on victims, the police can only use it to do investigations. Use of informants may give unreliable information. However, the truth in the little information they give is what helps in doing further investigations (Bollas & Sundelson, 2011). This is because there are no investigations that can be done from scratch without having any idea or suspicion. Informants are crucial, therefore, in provoking investigations that in the end may be immensely helpful to the society at large.
Additionally, agencies use informants with an aim of preparing the police for criminal activities. This is common especially among informants who give information prior to the occurrence of a crime. There are some crimes such as terrorism-related that can be extremely fatal when they occur in the society. In such cases, the use of informants becomes crucial to prepare the police and other parties and helps them to deal with the situation and victims (Natapoff, 2012). In addition, they can also alert citizens to watch out and report any suspicious people and prevent the crimes from occurring. This method has helped to prevent many organized crimes in the society.
The federal and state governments have the policy on the use of informants, which is crucial in ensuring that procedural processes are clearly spelt out to govern the specialty. This is beneficial as it ensures that formality is maintained when dealing with informants. The policy is also geared towards ensuring that the rights of the informants are protected. There are some cases where the police officers have misused informants because of their kindness (Ferdico, Fradella & Totten, 2008). The policy, therefore, ensures that the informants are protected so that their lives are complicated by the system. This ensures that there is peaceful co-existence in the society.
Current Implementation of the Policy
The use of informants varies per country. For instance, the use of informants in the United States is different from the United Kingdom’s. These differences are brought about by the policies that specify how different agencies use informants. In the U.S. justice system, use of informants is highly recognized; however, this is done in such a way that they are not visible to the public (Ferdico, Fradella & Totten, 2008). This is mostly used in situations where suspects provide information to the police to avoid being arrested. There are few rules that have been developed in regard to the use of informants in investigating crimes. This is usually a deal between a criminal suspect and the government. The individual is given an opportunity to avoid criminal punishment by providing reliable information to the government (Ready, Watson & Clark, 2002). Consequently, the informant usually seeks a plea from the government. This shows clearly that the core use of informants in this situation is to expiate their guilt; however, it can only happen under government’s approval. In the U.K., the policy on the use of informants is well spelt and adhered to by the police officers. Accordingly, the U.K. has fewer problems when it comes to the use of informants than the United States, where such cases are the order of the day. In many other countries, there are no clearly written procedural methods in dealing with informants (Ready, Watson & Clark, 2002). This is evident especially in countries that have undeveloped legal systems such as developing countries. However, in some countries with high criminal activities, there are well spelt out policies concerning the use of informants.
The use of informants has been linked with the law, and many legal aspects have been enacted to guide their utilization. There are legal aspects that determine the methods of rewarding and punishing informants by the police and prosecutors. There are other legal aspects that explain how the government can use informants to get information about other people. This is probably because of the universal right to privacy of all human beings. The constitutions of many countries also provide a procedural framework of dealing with the suspects whose information is given by the informants (Tierney et al., 2003). There are also other rules that limit the power of the government when it comes to informants. The law also differentiates the roles of the police and prosecutors in relation to informants, since these are two different legal organs.
In the United Kingdom, for instance, the use of informants is still high. However, this is usually controlled through the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which was passed in 2000. The act requires police to keep close contacts with the informants and manage them so that the information they give is reliable (Bloom, 2002). In addition, all the informants in the U.K. have to undergo a risk and credibility test before they are allowed to give any information.
The policy on the use of informants also stipulates how secrecy is enhanced. In the past, there was a problem of secrecy when dealing with informants. This was because informants took this as an advantage against reporting their enemies because they knew that they would not be publicized (Berger, 2012). The policy spells out better ways of enhancing secrecy not only at the expense of the victims, but also at the expense of the informants.
Positives of the Policy
The policy on the use of informants has helped to enhance transparency. This is through clearly spelt out procedural methods that are employed when dealing with informants. The guidelines given ensure that cases of corruption and bribery in the use of informants are controlled (Ferdico, Fradella & Totten, 2008). On the other hand, the policy ensures that informants are given security in their dealings so that they do end up as victims because of the initiative to report criminals to the authorities. The policy also ensures that there is accountability in the system. This aspect is noteworthy because, in the society, there is a stereotype that police procedures are associated with unaccountability (Tierney et al., 2003). The procedures that are specified in the policy ensure that accountability is fostered. The police are not allowed to use their own procedures to govern informants since this is what in most cases results into unaccountability.
Use of informants has been pivotal in controlling the occurrence of some organized crimes and hard-to-crack cases. For instance, informants may help federal agencies try and capture the victims upon a suspicion of a criminal activity before they commit a crime. Informants, therefore, form a critical element in the provision of necessary criminal information to the police, especially concerning terrorism. In addition, there are other confidential informants who take it as their role to report criminals to the police without working in the criminal justice system (Bollas & Sundelson, 2011). This helps the police to control the occurrence of some criminal activities as they capture the criminals in the planning process.
The policy has also ensured that the process of reporting is undertaken with the formalities required, unlike it was in the past. Accordingly, it is taken as a professional process with proper documentation and agreements (Schuler, Rehbein & Cramer, 2002). Eventually, it has prevented turning the use of informants into a trading activity, where people report others to get sympathy from the government and reduce their sentences or with the aim of receiving rewards.
The policy on the use of informants ensures that the rights of the informants are protected by all personnel engaged in investigations. In the past, there have been incidents where informants have been mishandled by the police officers to provide more relevant information. As a result, there have been decreased cases of people freely reporting to the police for fear of such mistreatments (Ferdico, Fradella & Totten, 2008). The policy has, therefore, ensured that the rights of the informants are protected, and they have nothing to fear. The policy gives informants the freedom to express their ideas without being tortured by the officers in control.
Negatives of the Policy
Although the use of informants through a policy profile has proven effective in many ways, it has some negative consequences to the criminal justice and society as a whole. It is necessary to point out that the use of informants comes at an extra cost to the criminal justice system (Ferdico, Fradella & Totten, 2008). This is because there are some cheeky informants who provide unreliable information. In addition, they take advantage of their freedom to engage in criminal activities because they may be somehow trusted by the system. This has made the aspect of using informants problematic in investigating crimes. Surprisingly, the practice has been changed to a business in some occasions. For instance, this is evident from the case of Ann Colomb and her sons, who were falsely accused and convicted of selling cocaine in Louisiana in 2006 (Berger, 2006; Natapoff, 2009). The information was provided by jailhouse informants, whose main aim was to get their sentences reduced. Prisoners were trading information concerning pending cases in jail with the aim of getting their own sentences reduced.
Another negative consequence of confidential informants is that some of them are victims of the crime. This usually complicates the work of the investigating agency because of the conflicting information. This is evident from the case of Rachel Hoffman, a graduate from Florida State, who was caught with some illegal pills and marijuana and agreed to work as an informant (Natapoff, 2012). She was sent to buy large amounts of drugs; however, she was killed in the process. Therefore, informants at times complicate matters in the criminal justice system.
In some cases, the information obtained from informants may be unreliable. This was established from a research carried out by Northwestern University School of Law, which demonstrated that 45% of the information given by the informants was unreliable (Ferdico, Fradella & Totten, 2008). As a result, some states in the United States have considered restricting the use of informants. Some researchers, however, argue that informants mostly provide truthful information, but it becomes difficult for the police to use it in investigations. This may be because of the insufficient information; nevertheless, many of the federal agencies in the world have begun losing trust in informants (Ready, Watson & Clark, 2002). Eventually, such cases have made the use of informants unreliable. This problem can be solved by adopting better checking mechanisms through an analysis of the informant’s claims. In addition, rules should be tightened so that the use of informants is not taken as a business, as it has been in the past.
Many police officers and informants themselves are not familiar with the policy concerning the use of informants. A research carried out in New Jersey showed that one of the main reasons police officers were facing difficulties in the use of informants was because many of them were not familiar with the procedures provided by the government (Tierney et al., 2003). Ignorance of the procedures is a common problem in many states in the US and even in other countries. On the other side, there is a weakness in the system since many informants are not aware of their rights. Eventually, some of them are misused by the police in the process.
Contemporary Research Findings and Data
In the past, the use of informants led to many complications that made the work of police and prosecutors difficult. As a result, many federal agencies have carried a research to get appropriate information and come up with clear rules and guidelines on how to deal with informants. This is also intended to make the justice system fair, accurate, and even more accountable than ever before. In the United States, a research carried in a number of states, including New York, Texas, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Florida, and Illinois, by Northwestern University School of Law showed that reforms were required in the use of informants (Bollas & Sundelson, 2011; Berger, 2012). On the other hand, it also established that 45% of the convictions from informants were unreliable.
Researches emphasized on the need in new police and prosecutor guidelines. Although there were some guidelines that existed in the states, most of them were ineffective in addressing the problems related to use of informants. Another reform needed was in the area of rewards to informants who testified for the defense. There was also a need to make the public aware of the use of informants. This is because, in the past, informants have been employed secretly; thus benefiting some individuals at the expense of others (Tierney et al., 2003). These reforms are just the beginning of the change in the system as the government is making additional efforts to ensure that all the problems related to the use of informants are addressed.
A further research shows that one of the shortcomings that arise in the use of informants is failure to establish and maintain professional relationships within the specialty. The research showed that in the line of operation, police usually fail to establish personal relationships. This happens because they tackle matters informally without acknowledging the formalities as required by the law (Ferdico, Fradella &Totten, 2008). In most cases, this results into problems as the police officers may even forget to test the credibility of the informants.
A recent research carried out by John Jay College of Criminal Justice to analyze New Jersey’s policy practices towards the use of informants indicates the level of disorganization in the system. This study was released in 2010 by The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and showed that the policy was misused. One problem that was associated with this was the lack of training for police officers. This was evident as the officers assumed too much personal risk rather than viewing this from an organizational perspective. The research further showed that confidential informants were unprofessionally pressurized, and this obliged them to give false information. It was further observed that many of the departments that used informants failed to assess the reliability of the information they provided (Ferdico, Fradella & Totten, 2008). Additionally, many police officers said that they were not aware of any policies regarding dealings with informants.
Research shows that informants play a crucial role in prevention of some crimes in the society, and their use cannot be ignored at all levels. However, there are many challenges in the process; therefore, the government needs to implement agency control procedures. This should be done through written directives that spell out the duties and responsibilities of all people that arte engaged in the use of informants. The personnel dealing with the informants should also be trained. This is crucial as it will ensure that the main negative consequences of the policy are eliminated. There is, however, a need for an extra comprehensive research in the area to increase the effectiveness of the use of informants. In addition, the use of technology should be incorporated in this specialty for smooth operations.