Officers find out about crimes in many different ways. While sometimes they catch someone while they are out on patrol, police often find out about crimes from a victim or a bystander witnessing the event or someone who knows about the crime before it occurs.
Often, crime dramas will use confidential informants as a way to make the plot more interesting. In reality, confidential informants can support law enforcement, but only in limited circumstances.
Here’s what you should know about how law enforcement agencies use confidential informants and the guidelines they must follow.
Confidential informant vs. anonymous tip
There are essential distinctions between an anonymous tip and a confidential informant. Someone making an anonymous call to report a crime is not always reliable and could have ulterior motives for making the call. On the other hand, a confidential informant has demonstrated that they have a specific type of information, and they are providing it in return for some reward.
In some states, courts have an obligation to disclose confidential sources during the trial. However, there are limits to when the prosecution must disclose a confidential informant’s identity on a federal level.
Can confidential informants break the law?
Depending on the situation and the specific nature of the agreement, some confidential informants have limited authorization to engage in otherwise criminal activity.
The confidential informant may have an immunity agreement that could be at risk if they do not follow the rules for what criminal activity is part of the agreement.
Does a confidential informant have the authority to arrest me?
Confidential informants have very limited authority. Typically, they cannot make arrests, but they can give information to officers who can make an arrest.