Managing confidential informants - What constitutes negligence.

The Manatee County Herald tribune recently carried a story about the death of a confidential informant Christopher Boston:

While all the details of this case are not clear I will not comment on the specifics of the case though it does make for tragic reading. What I do want to focus on is the comment with reference to the training that the officers involved in informant management allegedly undertake prior to being allowed to manage informants namely:

“Manatee County Sheriff’s Office detectives who deal with confidential informants are required to take a one-hour online course and pass a subsequent test.“

Florida has legislation that mandates the training of officers undertaking the management of confidential informants. This legislation known as Rachel’s Law was introduced following the death of another confidential informant in 2009 in nearby Tallahassee - Rachel Hoffman.

The fact that any professional police officer believes that one hour of on-line training is sufficient to train an officer to manage informants is sufficient, beggars belief. Quite simply - there is no way that any officer can manage a confidential informant safely with such limited training. The fact that someone thinks they can is a clear indication that those in charge have no comprehension of the risks to all involved in managing confidential informants.

Managing confidential informants is a high risk activity and as this case and many others clearly indicate if it is not done properly people can die. Failure to implement proper training regimes for all officers involved in managing informants, including supervisors constitutes negligence. How can an officer properly identify and manage risks if they have not been trained to do so? And you cant learn what the risks might be in one hour on line.

The limited amount of training provided is also a strong indicator that the systems being used to manage informants are also poor. [Training officers to properly complete the records necessary for the safe management of informants takes days not an ‘hour’.]

I do not use the word negligence lightly. I use it because I have studied the management of confidential informants for many years and I have written extensively on the subject. I know the risks involved and what must to be done to protect the informant, the officer, the agency and the public. Training forms a key element of effective informant management.

The minimum training for an officer to manage confidential informants safely is 35 hours ( 1 week) of classroom based learning. I stress this is the minimum. Good training that will leave an officer competent to manage high risk informants takes 70 hours (two weeks). If a law enforcement agency wishes to prove that their officers have been trained properly then they should be able to evidence the content of the each lesson that has been delivered and that it has been delivered by a subject matter expert.

If an agency wishes to manage confidential informants then the Chief of Police or the Sheriff needs to invest in training their officers to do it safely. This will cost money. However when it comes to protecting life it is a reasonable investment to make. And if the ethical justification is not sufficient then surely the thought of the negligence suit that will follow should focus minds.

Managing informants will always carry with it difficult decisions in terms of ethics and risk. The choice whether to use someone as a confidential informant or not needs to be made by properly trained officers operating with in a properly constructed informant management system where there can be ready oversight by properly authorised persons of all records pertaining to each informant.

If you are a Chief or a Sheriff and are interested in how to construct an effective system to manage confidential informants please get in touch. Better talking now that in a court room, when you are trying to justify why you didn’t train your officers. And if you are worried about the costs involved take a look at how much was paid out in damages to the family of Rachel Hoffman.

At HSM Training we are here to help law enforcement avoid such tragedies. If you are looking for expert advice or training e-mail us on