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Street Cop Training

May 26, 2022

Five Common Red Flags When Debriefing a Potential Informant

The act of debriefing a new informant is essentially having a conversation regarding the potential cases they can produce. A debrief differs substantially from a suspect interview, as informants are not being formally interrogated and therefore incriminating themselves. An informant debrief is a “make or break” moment in which the potential cooperator has an opportunity to prove their value to the police.  

Street cops must be familiar with the five most common red flags, a common theme in an unproductive debrief. As soon as one of these issues is presented, we must immediately assess and determine if the conversation should proceed. While informants will always find ways to test the police, the following will most frequently rear their ugly heads:     

  1. Quid Pro Quo (This for That) – Every informant has a motivation, whether it is money, help with charges, or revenge, to name a few. They are not cooperating with police out of the goodness of their heart. Debriefs become dangerous, however, when an informant begins to make demands from the police in exchange for their information. “I’ll tell you who is burglarizing the convenience stores in town, but you have to promise me I’m not going to jail tonight.” While we rely on informants to be our eyes and ears on the street, we can never forget who is in the driver’s seat in this situation.  
  2. Friend of a Friend Intel – If an informant only provides “whisper down the lane” intelligence or can only give information that they heard from someone else, the probability is low that they can do anything of value on their own.  
  3. Not Forthcoming – People have different personalities. Not everyone will be ecstatic at the prospect of speaking with the police. However, you are probably right if you get the vibe that this potential informant is just sitting back and feeling you out.  
  4. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is – Sometimes, people will tell you whatever they think you want to hear to get out of handcuffs. The “I’ll get you whatever you want” informant will offer to get a kilo of cocaine and a handgun delivered to the police department parking lot. Don’t take the bait.
  5. Pulling Teeth – If the conversation is entirely one-sided or if you feel like you are on an episode of the First 48 interrogating a homicide suspect, walk out of the room. There is a vast difference between an initial hesitation to cooperate with the police and a complete disinterest in speaking to the street cops.  

REMEMBER, the streets are trying to get an education from street cops just as much as we are trying to get information from them. So if you experience one of these major red flags, take a hard look at what you are doing and reconsider moving forward with this informant. Never forget… today’s informant is tomorrow’s target.