Unnecessary Evil - Issues: Collect Data

October 25, 2007

Without compromising the anonymity of confidential informants, law enforcement agencies could easily collect and report basic data, but they don’t. It is prudent to protect the confidentiality of certain features of any informant program so as not to jeopardize anyone’s safety or the integrity of high-level investigations, but the thick veil of secrecy that surrounds today’s informant system has become an unacceptable impediment to accountability.

> SOLUTIONS
> Require all local, state and federal law enforcement agencies collect and report certain informant-related data

Informants may help us solve crimes, but informants also commit crimes. Policymakers and the public must be able to examine the trade-offs made between the crimes that informants are meant to help solve and the crimes that informants are allowed to commit and for which they receive lighter punishment.

The Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) system is an example of a current system that requires all local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to report basic data to a central location so that it can be compiled and reported to policymakers and the public. For example, states and localities are already required to provide the FBI with crime statistics in order to obtain criminal justice funding. By adding informant-related data to existing reporting requirements, policymakers will be able to assess – for the first time – the true costs and benefits of the informant system.

Because drug informants in particular are concentrated in poor, urban communities of color, researchers have questioned whether the result is a “snowballing” effect, in which minority informants most often provide information to the government about alleged criminal activity by minorities of the same race who are within their immediate social circles. The ongoing debates and controversy over these issues critically need to be informed by reliable data.

> LEARN MORE
Testimony of Professor Alexandra Natapoff - U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary: Oversight Hearing on Law Enforcement Confidential Informant Practices

Professor Natapoff of Loyola Law School Los Angeles speaks to the need for data collection in the informant system. Watch it >>

The Federal Bureau of Investigation's Compliance with the Attorney General's Investigative Guidelines

A report by the U.S. Department of Justice analyzing, in part, the FBI's compliance with guidelines controlling the use of confidential informants. Read more >>

Substantial Assistance: An Empirical Yardstick Gauging Equity in Current Federal Policy and Practice

A report by the U.S. Sentencing Commission analyzing the practice of substantial assistance under which prison sentences are decreased for offenders who assist in the investigation or prosecution of another crime, such as an informant. Read more >>

> SOLUTIONS
 Congress should require all local, state and federal law enforcement agencies in the United States to collect and report basic data about their use of informants.  Such information should be collected by an agency that aggregates and publicly publishes the results. Data should include, to the extent possible:
  • The neighborhood or zip code where the informant was used
  • informant’s gender
  • informant’s race
  • any crimes committed by the informant
  • for each crime committed by the informant, whether the informant was arrested, charged, and/or convicted
  • the number of arrests and/or prosecutions in which the informant’s information was used
  • whether the informant's testimony was corroborated by other evidence in securing arrest and/or conviction
  • the length of time the informant has been cooperating with the government
  • how much the informant has been paid by the government
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