This is not a reference to vermin, although likely that this is where the mind should first go, unless of course you’re a jaded police officer.
What is being referred to here is the person class of rat, the Donnie Brasco or Watergate “deep throat” types; people who are motivated usually by three broad and not always singular reasons– self preservation, conscience, or self-interest. They are motivated to give over confidential information, in the street vernacular, they are motivated to “rat” on someone.
And for those holier than thou types, who say that they would never tell on someone, you better think again. Everyone, given the right circumstances has the potential to be a “rat”, or if you like the more gentle term, a “confidential informant”.
For instance, the Canada Revenue Agency this year had 32,157 “leads” from their “snitch line” in 2017/2018, a phone line where Canadians can anonymously call on their neighbours and friends and tell on them, “snitch’ on them for cheating on their taxes.
Informants are everywhere, in every facet of society, dwelling below the surface, just out of sight. They thrive in the political, corporate, cyber, and the military world.
Donald Trump, exuding his mafia don persona recently called Michael Cohen, his one-time lawyer, a “rat”, for his cooperation with the Mueller investigation.
There are many in the American military who blame the misguided incursion into Iraq looking for “weapons of mass destruction” on the fact that the CIA and NSA relied too heavily on technical resources– that they had allowed human sources to fall out of favour, neglected them and replaced them with the sexier uses of technology such as drones or telecommunications intercepts.
This is all a rather large preamble to the main point. In policing, especially in the drug, gang and homicide world, the police need informants. It is not the use of forensics, or searches of criminal data bases that in the end usually provide the needed link. It is human informants who prove themselves invaluable; able to solve crimes, or at least put one in a position to solve the crime, often at a fraction of the cost, often saving hundreds of investigational hours chasing links and leads.
The police should be learning from the likes of the NY Times or the Washington Post who clearly have developed informants inside the Trump White House in remarkable numbers, people informing at the highest level of government, possibly committing economic and political suicide if caught.
Effective policing simply can not survive or thrive without informants. They need rats and they need to cherish and cultivate those rats.
The decline and decimation of the solvency rate in IHIT maybe the lack of human informants who are almost non-existent according to this writer’s sources. In the last number of years, the police have fallen in love with the technical; DNA, video, cellphone call records. It is where junior and in-experienced officers tend to gather, as they have not had the time or the inclination to pay the time and price of human source development. Homicide investigations conducted over a laptop. Not that these other avenues are not valuable, but they are not comparable to the value of a good informant.
There are a couple of reasons for this, and it can not all be blamed on the officers themselves.
The first is that the politically correct RCMP and the current managers of the RCMP run from controversy, run from anything which could harm or impede their pristine career path. Doing nothing seems to be the historical creed of many a bureaucrat for the last many years. The 21st century of political politeness has created an environ that is loath to the risk taker, the person willing to go out on the proverbial limb, willing to justify a more precarious position in the interests of the better good.
Rather than develop informants with their inherent risks (and admittedly there are a lot of risks) they would rather barricade themselves from it. In extreme cases they have turned away from solving a crime in order to keep their slate clean. Policing is an often risky business in terms of its operations and decision making , whether it is to force entry into a house, or launch an investigation into a high profile agency or business. There is no room for the feint of heart.
Why is there no criticism of this beyond cautious approach? They get away with it because the file investigations are hidden, out of the public view. No one is ever the wiser. The only peek into the effectiveness of human sources maybe when and if you examine solvency stats. In its early formation IHIT had a solvency rate of around 70%, currently in 2018 they are at a staggering 5 or 6%. Surrey and Vancouver are the gun and gang vortexes, making up almost 80 % of the files, solvency is dependent on knowing who are the players, you need inside information.
The RCMP put so many barriers to protect themselves that running an informant, having them approved for use, or paying an informant has become a bureaucratic byzantine nightmare. And if you want to go one step further, and turn this informant into an “agent” then be prepared for a lengthy, paper-intensive, time-consuming, all encompassing questioning of the need for that informant. (An agent is one who is being directed by the police to get involved with a criminal group, such as wearing a “wire”–but in doing so there is a legal responsibility for the informant that makes the police responsible for their financial and physical well-being.)
The second primary reason for this issue, is even a little more unnoticeable. For the formative years of IHIT, the officers becoming part of the group had many years experience, had come up through the ranks and trenches, coming up through the uniform ranks, working on the “streets”. And it is there, that informants are gardened and ripe for picking. It is on the streets, when dealing with the drug dealers, the prostitutes, the gang types that one begins to develop a rapport whether it be through normal interaction, or through arrests and releases. The cellblocks are the Tinder like atmosphere which produces potential informants on a daily basis. Currently the RCMP has told their officers that they are not allowed to cultivate informants who are “in custody” as ludicrous as that sounds to experienced investigators.
Having informants is a dirty job for an investigator. It is a tedious and prolonged effort. The relationships develop over months and years. One does not get a good informant in one meeting, in fact numerous approaches to many people are needed to develop one good informant. (For awhile the RCMP had a unit whose sole job was to parachute into a file, and develop an informant for the investigators–this of course showed an amazing lack of sophistication and knowledge of how informants are built and it ended in failure)
The vast majority of current candidates for the IHIT group are younger, with minimal amounts of service, sometimes less than five years, a situation almost unheard of many years ago. They have not matured as investigators, let alone time to develop those informants. They get parachuted in from Richmond for example to IHIT and they will likely get their first file experiences in in Surrey or Burnaby.
So where does this leave us? The model has to change, experience and longevity need to count once again in homicide units. These units need to be a place where seasoned investigators want to go, where one is rewarded for their longevity.
And most of all, there needs to be a realization from the management of the RCMP that if they truly want to be operationally effective, they need to allow their officers the ability to take risks. Recognize those abilities, recognize the value and the time and effort that is required. Realize that there are informants that will go sideways, that will bring negative comment.
It will solve crimes but maybe the question to ask is whether the solving of crimes is a priority anymore.
“You have to bring an informant in, convince him or her that your bed is warmer and safer than the one the informer is currently sleeping in. You have to be a friend, but not too friendly, you have to make promises, but none that you can’t deliver. You have to keep your informants safe, but not hesitate to put them in mortal danger. You have to show them that there is a future beyond this, when you know there probably isn’t.”
– From ‘The Cartel’ by Don Winslow.