Confidential Informants

What has not been written about so far, and should be mentioned, is that informants also provide information to investigators. There are various kinds of informants that prove of value at times to investigators. There are those who expect to be paid or to receive some kind of consideration, or they may cooperate with detectives for other reasons.

Nonetheless, informants can pass along valuable intelligence that may lead to the identification of a suspect. Furthermore, police investigations rely on surveillance, sting operations, photo lineups, and live lineups—all with the intention of helping to identify suspects.

Role of Databases in Investigations

But there is also the use of databases that allow investigators to close off some lines of inquiry, encourage the continuance of others, or suggest new lines of investigation (Swanson et al., 2012). There are myriad databases available to the police these days, especially to the crime analyst or intelligence expert who knows how and when to access those databases. Available databases are international, national, multistate, state, or regional.

Among the national databases are the following:

  • AEXIS (Arson, Explosives, and Incident System). Run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). This database contains information on arson, bombs, and misuse of explosives, including incident characteristics that can be useful in determining patterns, trends, and motives.
  • NIBIN (National Integrated Ballistics Information Network). Also operated by the ATF, this database helps to determine if firearms are related to other cases.
  • NDPIX (National Drug Pointer Index). This database from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) alerts participating agencies of investigative targets they have in common.
  • NamUs (National Missing and Unidentified Persons System). Administered by the National Institute of Justice, this database is designed to help track missing persons or identify human remains.
  • NCIC (National Crime Information Center). Maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), this database consists of 19 files, which include the National Sex Offender Registry, Unidentified Person File, Missing Persons File, U.S. Secret Service Protective File, Foreign Fugitive File, Gang File, Supervised Release File, and Identity Theft File.
  • • In addition to national databases, there are state and local databases that contain information about millions of offenders, as well as missing persons, driver’s license and vehicle registration information, state and local court information, Department of Corrections offender and inmate tracking, sexual predator tracking, and various other kinds of information.

Many police departments now have intelligence units that help to produce real-time, immediately actionable information. While the sophistication of individual intelligence units may vary from city to city or state to state, these departments can provide information that is invaluable in a criminal investigation.

While it may be the investigative department or the detective bureau that requests information from the intelligence unit (which are called by a variety of names, including fusion centers, intelligence units, and real-time crime centers), it is the responsibility of the intelligence unit to make sure that appropriate, supportive, and useful information is provided to crime investigators.

Charles R. Swanson and his colleagues (2012) propose that there is a continuous six-step process used by intelligence centers. Those six steps are as follows:

  • 1. Planning and direction. The intelligence process requires a focus and direction for the intelligence effort. This could mean that the focus at a particular time might be on the solution of a series of crimes, a current hostage situation, the reexamination of a cold case, or preventing homicide in a section of the city.
  • 2. Collection. Raw data are collected by the intelligence unit, but these raw data must be analyzed and refined so that usable information is relayed to the police unit in need of data.
  • 3. Processing. In this step, the raw data are analyzed, which may mean that information is indexed, sorted, and filed in meaning ways that will allow for rapid retrieval and immediate usefulness to investigators or other police personnel.
  • 4. Analysis and production. Data that have been processed are translated into a finished intelligence report. The data should be scrutinized for timeliness, reliability, validity, and relevance. The crime analyst in the intelligence unit must combine data into a finished product that informs the user of the analyst’s assessment of events and the implications of that assessment (Swanson et al., 2012).
  • 5. Dissemination. Ultimately, after collecting data, analyzing it, and producing a finished report, one must disseminate it to the officer or department that requested it.
  • 6. Reevaluation. The receiving officer or department must provide feedback so that the intelligence unit can be constantly striving for improvement. Often, the finished product leads to new questions or problems that lead back to step 1 and a recycling of the six steps.
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