Lynchburg Police Department in Virginia recently publicized a scheme where they are using ‘concerned reliable citizens’ to provide the police department with information on drug activity.
In this blog ABM Software Consultant and confidential informant management expert, John Buckley, admits that while such schemes can have benefits they also carry risks that are not often apparent. John also offers expert advice on managing citizen informants.
Encouraging citizens to pass information on criminality to law enforcement is a necessary and commendable action for any police department to undertake. However, with any such scheme it is vital that the agency creates structures to adequately protect the citizens passing on the information and to ensure that they gain maximum benefit for the efforts they make and the risks they undertake.
What law enforcement agencies should consider when deciding whether to use citizen informants
One of the first aspects that needs considered is the ability of the law enforcement agency to protect those passing the information and from this standpoint a myriad of questions arise. Does the agency have specific procedures for managing such people? Have the officers involved received adequate training for their role? Does the agency have identified structures to record all details of the history of the agency’s relationship with these individuals and the contact the agency has had with them? What risk assessments are carried out with regard to the safety of these people and how are those risks subsequently managed?
Moving on from these initial considerations it is important to consider whether or not the citizen has been made aware of the risks they are taking and what instruction they have been given in regard to them avoiding self compromise? It is far from unusual for a person unfamiliar with criminality to compromise themselves through careless talk or action. A simple question such as “who have you told you are helping the police?” will often reveal the fact that they have told a significant number of people they believe can be trusted. Carelessness in such regard will often lead to the criminals finding out the person’s role and result in them being threatened or attacked. This then begs the question “then what?” Does the agency have a mechanism to protect the person? Does it operate a witness protection-style scheme or will the concerned citizen, in the event of a compromise, be left to fend for themselves?
A third concern with regard to such a program relates to how effectively the information from such citizens is managed and exploited. Does the agency have identified policing priorities and is the information collected to address these priorities or is the agency led, not by a structured intelligence-based approach, but by knee jerk responses to reports by citizens? It is easy to end up being led by the informant as opposed to by what the Chief has set out as the priorities for the agency.
It is a good thing for an agency to be proactive in maximizing the information they receive from citizens but a failure to do it effectively reduces the benefits and a failure to do it safely costs lives.
John regularly advises ABM in relation to the development of abmpegasus – the world’s leading software for managing confidential informants – and has written several books on intelligence management and confidential informants. His latest title, Managing Intelligence; a Guide for Law Enforcement Professionals, will be published in June.
If you would like further information on abmpegasus or advice on using citizen informants please email firstname.lastname@example.org or, alternatively, please contact our sales office on +1 703 326 366 to arrange a demonstration.