After a deadly home invasion claimed the life of Enrique “Henry” Montes, his family believes Phoenix police did not do enough to protect them after police learned through a confidential informant that the Montes home would be the target of a home invasion. So who are these informants and what do they do?
A confidential informant can range from a waitress who just sees something shady to a career criminal. But they almost always get something out of it, whether it’s a warm feeling of doing something good or cold, hard cash.
“Police work needs informants,” said former SWAT officer Jess Torrez. He said informant work is tricky business.
“Informants can go out and perform illegal things – selling narcotics, stolen property – but it has to be under the direction of an officer, and a very close direction,” he said.
Torrez said informants are vetted and have to prove themselves reliable. Police will look into their criminal histories and keep their fingerprints and photos on file.
“He has to sign an agreement with Phoenix or any agency that he will not conduct illegal activity,” Torrez said.
Experts said police agencies are now dealing with criminals who know what they’re doing, and peoples’ lives are on the line; so while they can set boundaries, often those lines are blurred.
“It’s not for amateurs. It’s just not,” said former Mesa Master Police Officer Bill Richardson. He said for the informant, tipping off the police isn’t a “get out of jail free” card.
“If they were participants in the crime, then the outcome could be prosecution,” Richardson said.
Richardson said despite the many risks, law enforcement has been using informants more in recent years because sometimes it’s safer – and more believable – than sending in an undercover cop.
“It takes a lot of skill and a lot of experience and a real understanding of the people you’re dealing with,” Richardson said.
Phoenix police would not confirm that a confidential informant was working with them in the Montes case.