27 August 2017

Informants 101


by R.T. Lawton

Law enforcement, in many cases, depends upon informants to solve crimes, catch criminals in the act, or at least get pointed in the right direction as to who did it and sometimes how they did it. Information from informants also helps law enforcement agencies recover stolen goods from robberies, burglaries and scams. Do informants provide this information out of the goodness of their heart? Rarely. Can they get hurt for conducting these informant activities? Oh yeah. Those in the criminal world despise informants and often dish out punishments ranging up to severe beatings and even death.

So why do these people inform on their friends, associates, fellow criminals and even family in some cases? Guess you could say there are a lot of reasons, and every informant has his or her own personal reason. So, let's take a look at where they come from and why they make that choice.

Fear:
 ~Fear is a constant factor in the underworld and many of those on the street have or are committing crimes to survive in their environment or in an attempt to get ahead in the world, maybe even to acquire some of the luxuries they think they so richly deserve in life. If these people feel that the cops are getting close to them for past crimes committed, they may voluntarily come forward and offer to work in exchange for a free pass on their prior misdeeds. On the other side of the coin, after the police do make arrests for past crimes committed, the police will often make the new defendant an offer, assuming the police have other criminals they want to put in prison and think their new arrestee can make cases on those criminals. In street slang, this is known as "having a hammer" on the soon-to-be informant. He either works, or gets a lengthy sentence.

For instance, in the drug world, we generally want to move up the ladder to a bigger dealer, so in exchange for a lighter sentence, the defendant agrees to make cases on his supplier and any other larger suppliers he can get into. Then, when that larger supplier goes down, we make him an offer too. Some take the deal, some don't.

 ~Running on the streets is a dog eat dog environment. Many criminals and criminal organizations use fear to maintain their position and as a measure of protection from rivals and others who may wish to do them harm. However  this same fear sometimes prompts a lesser criminal to work with the law in order to remove that threat from his personal safety. Fear can be a double-edged sword that cuts both ways.

 ~And strangely enough, there is the fear of being thought an informant. I took advantage of this fear once in Kansas City. We had just arrested a drug dealer and were driving him to the county jail for processing. We made him an offer and he declined, but wasn't civilized about the declination. So, as we were passing a local night club where several gangsters were hanging out on the street, I hit the brakes, screeching the tires. I then pointed towards the gangsters and hollered loud enough for all to hear, "Is that the guy?" The sudden stop of our car threw the handcuffed defendant forward and he instinctively looked where I was pointing. All the gangsters saw his face. I then drove on. His next comment was, "I may as well become an informant now, because all those guys already think I am after this." He went on to do a fair job, just not on those gangsters, and he subsequently got a lighter sentence in court,

Revenge or Jealousy:
 ~Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Can't tell you how many times a cast-off wife, mistress or girlfriend has called up to give information on their good-for-nothing ex-partner who just happens to have a long list of of ongoing or prior crimes. One of my long time fugitives hiding out in Venezuela was tripped up by the cast-off girlfriend of the man in Florida who forwarded hiding-out money on a monthly basis from the fugitive's dear, old, sweet corruptible mother in Wyoming.
 ~And, that green-eyed goddess of envy prompts many a person who sees others living in the lap of luxury from the proceeds of their crimes to drop a dime on those richer competitors, so as to give them a little well deserved misery.

Mercenary:
 ~These are the ones who do it for the money. They are usually the easiest ones to control, and when they finish working your area, you usually pass them along to work another area far enough away that the word hasn't spread, yet close enough that the informant is easily available for court on your own cases, if necessary.

Ego:
 ~These guys are looking for the positive feedback they never received as a kid. Or, they consider themselves to be smarter than the opposition and this is a way to prove it.

Wannabe:
 ~Someone who wants to be a cop, but isn't good enough to make the cut. It could be a physical problem, a psychological one, or maybe he didn't have the needed education. This type may try to tell you how to do your job.

James Bond Syndrome:
 ~These people are often dangerous to the controlling agent. They frequently fantasize about their position, exaggerate their knowledge of criminals and have been known to setup arrangments which parallel their favorite movie scene. We found out later, that one guy we dubbed as Pale Rider had wired up his own apartment to make his own recordings on dealers and on drug agents. In the end, we busted him for dealing on the side while he was working for us.

Repentance:
 ~Some people feel bad for their past crimes and want to make up for their transgressions, but that is seldom their only motivation for cooperating with the law.

Perverse:
 ~People in this category may be trying to discover who the undercover agents are or who other informants are. I've run into both of these situations. Fortunately, it turned out bad for them and not for our side.
 ~They may be trying to find out your agency's targets, methods of operation or how the agency's surveillance equipment works.
 ~They may be trying to eliminate their competition so they can get a larger percent of the criminal earnings.
 ~And sometimes they are sent by the criminal organization you're working on to infiltrate your organization. In some cases, they don't come as informants for you. This could be as simple as the Bandidos or H.A.'s sending their girlfriends to work as dispatchers or secretaries for the local cop shop or even a federal agency. You've all seen the movie "The Departed." That's closer to reality than you may think.

So, now you've got an idea of the who's and the why's of an informant. Next Month, in Informants 102, we'll discuss the ins and out's of handling these so-called cooperating individuals.

In the meantime, if you're involved in criminal activities, who can you trust? Nobody. Given the right motivation, anybody can turn on you.

As the Hell's Angels say, "Three can keep a secret, if two are dead."

Pleasant dreams.

9 comments:

Paul D. Marks said...

Fascinating stuff, RT. That's a great breakdown of informants and their motivations. And I'm sure there's a lot of us here who will "borrow" from it in things we write :-) .

O'Neil De Noux said...

Cool article and spot on. I'm certain some of us can get inspiration for a story here or a plot twist. Nice.

Eve Fisher said...

Oh, yes! Thanks for the long, long list, which will indeed come in handy for me...
The woman scorned is a big one I hear in the pen. "It's not my fault I'm in prison; my baby mamma turned me in for dealing 'cause I was cheating on her."
No one in the pen, of course, ever admits to being an informant himself...

Robert Lopresti said...

Great stuff, R.T. Have you read the book Shell Game? Nonfiction about the people who steal geoducks (a weird but valuable kind of clam) out of Puget Sound. One of the informers in the book turned out to be turning in his competition.

I wrote a short story long ago, called "Dead Giveaway," published in the late lamented Muderous Intent Mystery Magazine. It is from the viewpoint of a car salesman who is surprised when a middle-aged woman buys a sports car for a young man on the poor side of town. As it turns out, he is the only witness to the murder of the woman's daughter, and the arrival of the gift is a death sentence, since his friends assume he's become an informer. So, reluctantly, he becomes one.

R.T. Lawton said...

Paul, feel free to use info from any of my posts for story ideas or background. Most of my earlier posts included tales from the street. There's even a three part series about surveillance, and there are two more parts coming on informants.

Thanks for the comments.

R.T. Lawton said...

O'Neil, I'm sure you had some informants of your own during your cop years, so you have a good idea how things work, and how things go wrong with those guys.

R.T. Lawton said...

Eve, I'm sure you've seen a lot of informants during your work up on the hill. As you know, usually a known informant is put in some type of segregation for his own safety. And then there are those who become informants while in prison in order to get little rewards from the keepers. It's a dangerous business for them, but they do it anyway, for one reason or another.

Eve Fisher said...

As I said, none of them ever admit being an informer, but of course you hear things. And some of the rewards aren't that little - a cell phone makes a person very, very rich in prison.

R.T. Lawton said...

Rob, thanks. I haven't read The Shell Game yet. I'll have to take a look at it. There was an old novel (fiction) about an informant for an ATF agent set on the east coast that was pretty good. It even got made into a movie. I tried to find the title, but no luck.