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Shifts in Police-Informant Negotiations

NCJ Number
Global Crime Volume: 9 Issue: 4 Dated: November 2008 Pages: 291-305
Mathilde Turcotte
Date Published
November 2008
15 pages
This paper examines the impact of the increasing criminal cooperation programs for police handler-informant relationships.
The use of informants and cooperating defendants generates a great deal of controversy. It is argued among scholars that although the effectiveness of this method has not been empirically proven, its negative consequences are amply documented. It also often leads to human rights violations, and increases opportunities for police malfeasance and corruption. However, law enforcement agencies feel the use of informants has become a necessary evil. At the heart of the debate is law enforcement’s capacity to regulate informant use and thereby, reduce associated dangers. Over the last two decades, many countries have introduced policies to regulate the use of criminal informants and defendants who agree to provide information or testimony in exchange for financial incentives, protection, and leniency. There are many researchers who assume this trend has no bearing on the relationship between the handler and the informant. Following this assumption, they maintain that agreements made with criminal trade participants are still informally negotiated and unsupervised. However, findings from the fieldwork conducted in this paper illustrate that, in order to compensate for weakening of their discretionary power, police officers are developing new deceptive tactics in dealing with informants. In addition, the increasingly institutionalized use of informants has given handlers a false sense of security. Informants gain skills and knowledge from their relationship with handlers, which can be used to undermine the handler’s authority.


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