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Ethical Issues in the Use of Confidential Informants for Narcotic Operations

NCJ Number
Police Chief Volume: 74 Issue: 6 Dated: June 2007 Pages: 62,64,66
Brian Lieberman
Date Published
June 2007
4 pages

This article examines the use of confidential informants for narcotic investigations and the need to develop formal informant control procedures, as well as provide ethical issues preparation, and train officers in dealing with informants.


Without proper guidelines, preparation, and training narcotic investigators have the potential to: fail in maintaining a professional relationship while working with informants; fail to evaluate the motivation of informants; fail to corroborate information received from informants; fail to handle money, property, and controlled substances appropriately with informants; fail to adequately document informant activities; and make promises to informants that they are unable to keep. The use of informants remains one of law enforcement's oldest and most essential investigative tools. However, there is a fine line separating ethical and unethical actions when using confidential sources. In addition, the informants are often criminals and if not properly managed, they can render a law enforcement investigation useless, destroy an agency's credibility, and potentially endanger officers' lives. To use confidential informants successfully, agencies must develop formal and sound informant control procedures. Yet, even with adequate agency control of informants, individual investigators will face serious ethical issues when working with informants. Therefore, agencies need to provide ethics guidance to officers. To prepare for ethical issues, agencies must develop a training program to prepare investigators to deal with informants. This training will enable investigators to avoid the common pitfalls noted above. Notes