What is a Confidential Informant in Law Enforcement?

Written by

John Cotton


Logan Miller

what is a confidential informant in law enforcement

Throughout this article, we will discuss what is a confidential informant in law enforcement.

We’ll highlight the role and importance of individuals who act as discreet sources of highly classified data in criminal cases.

We’ll look at the various informant types, including members of the general public, apprehended offenders, undercover police agents, and crime victims.

Furthermore, we will look into the safe call procedure, discover the treaties made for these informants, and obtain knowledge of their benefits and drawbacks.

The Role of Confidential Informants in Law Enforcement


The definition of a confidential informant is an individual who discreetly shares valuable information with law enforcement authorities such as the police and the FBI.

CI in law enforcement plays a crucial role in investigations, especially in drug cases. People often label them as “snitches,” “rats,” “whistleblower,” or “a finger pointer.”

These informants usually engage in illegal activities themselves. They aid law enforcement officers or agents in apprehending higher-risk or larger-scale offenders and often negotiate agreements to ensure their leniency.

The role of these informants varies based on the information they provide to law enforcement officers or agents.

In other cases, like a drug case, they may reveal particular data, such as the specific spot where they previously met the defendant to acquire narcotics. If their involvement is limited to sharing information, their identities usually remain confidential.

However, the situation changes when an informant reveals that they have engaged with the defendant before and are now willing to interact and purchase with them again to help officers apprehend them.

As part of a safe call procedure, police enforcement and a district attorney may disclose the confidential informant’s identity in these cases.

How Do Confidential Informants Work?


In every case, law enforcement ensures that they don’t engage just any confidential informant; they guarantee that the individuals they work with adhere to the rules for a confidential informant.

Each law enforcement investigative team maintains a confidential informants database, although the specific software utilized can differ between regions.

The criminal intelligence database software allows for searching and reporting on statements, tactical operations using location data, items relevant to the crime, and individuals associated with the crime, including offenders, subjects, and informants.

You can watch this video to get an overview of law enforcement databases. https://dai.ly/x6143az

Now that you know about the specialized record-keeping system, you must understand that becoming a confidential informant involves specific steps.

These procedures guarantee that the informant follows the criteria established by the JLEA (Justice Law Enforcement Agency) and that they are properly registered.

When working with a CI, it’s crucial to consider specific details for your understanding and reporting.

Factors to take into account include:

  1. Age
  2. Alien status (whether they’re local, foreign, citizen, resident, or tourist)
  3. Person’s occupation (e.g., media affiliate, public official, law enforcement, etc.)
  4. Motivation of the informant (revenge, money, fear, remorse, judicial leniency)
  5. Relationship between CI and the subject
  6. And many more.

Now, you might wonder how law enforcement utilizes confidential informants. The informant’s work is vital, as the information they provide to law enforcement officers or agents can lead to numerous advantages.

These include cost savings, with some seeking leniency for their pending cases; the information they provide aids in expediting case-building, which could otherwise take months from scratch; and various other benefits.

With these factors in mind, let’s dig deeper into understanding the primary types of Confidential Informants.

1. A Member of the General Public


It’s widely known that individuals can earn by working as confidential informants. Law enforcement offers payments and substantial rewards, particularly for high-risk cases.

As of February 2023, a source from Nevada, USA, has indicated that the salary of a confidential informant could reach up to $85,327 per year, based on their research on ZipRecruiter.

Furthermore, a 2021 Forbes article highlighted that certain informants have even become millionaires.

They might participate in controlled buy operations under police guidance, leading to the subsequent arrest of the subject by law enforcement officers.

2. A Criminal Seeking Leniency


Certain informants willingly cooperate in exchange for becoming an informant, aiming for leniency in their ongoing trial.

Many law enforcement agencies utilize this approach as a strategic means to obtain crucial information for cases that might have been under development for a considerable duration.

3. Police Informant


Information provided by a police officer is typically trustworthy, but there are situations where their identity must remain hidden. In such cases, the judge might need to know their identity to assess their credibility.

Moreover, relying solely on police informants isn’t always advisable, as it can lead to significant personal and professional issues for them.


It’s crucial to recognize that employing sex as an investigative tactic is forbidden and qualifies as misconduct in any scenario. It is due to its classification as a form of mental and physical coercion.

Thus, engaging with the subject or defendant sexually to manipulate them into sharing information or data cannot be deemed acceptable for confidential informant purposes.

Now let’s look at the benefits and drawbacks of utilizing confidential informants to understand better how it works.

The Pros and Cons of Using Confidential Informants



  • Involves minimal expenditure for the law enforcement agency paying for it.
  • Information tends to be more reliable since it comes directly from knowledgeable individuals (though its reliability is established through questioning by officers).
  • Conversations with the information source often unveil details and perspectives that are otherwise inaccessible.


It has the potential to result in overbearing and needless police assault.

For Law Enforcement:

Due to the fact that many confidential informants have criminal backgrounds, if not handled with care:

  • They can potentially hinder law enforcement’s effectiveness in investigation.
  • They may compromise the credibility of the bureau.
  • They could put the lives of police officers at risk.

For Confidential Informants:

  • Understand that the police might not control the outcome of your ongoing cases or whether they will fulfill their promises.
  • Some of your fundamental rights and liberties may be at risk, and law enforcement often monitors your actions.
  • Participating in missions can be dangerous.


In summary, now that you know and understand what is a confidential informant in law enforcement better, you’re also informed about the law enforcement database. It is where law enforcement records relevant case details, subjects, and informants.

We now understand that utilizing a confidential informant could offer a secure and safe call avenue for the police. They can obtain insider information that supports their case, as distinct details might not be readily apparent but can be uncovered through informant reports.

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