Criminal organizations, or organized crimes needs to be deterred in the interests of society and the biggest resource for police authorities in their battle against this scourge is intelligence. To gain this information, designated authorities have recourse to tried and tested methods. These methods include physical and technological surveillance, infiltration of the organization by undercover agents, and last, but not the least, the use of informants.
Informants used against organized crime are usually members of these criminal organizations, who decide to talk to the authorities for a variety of personal and financial reasons. Critics have often criticized the use of informants: it is believed that most informants are unreliable because they work for selfish motives, either to gain revenge on their parent organization, or in search of incentives like money and exemption from charges and punishment.
Since the whole process of using informants is confidential, critics fear the abuse of the system, whereby criminals go scot free despite heinous activities because of their cooperation with the authorities in netting criminal organizations. ...
This is where the informants come in handy, because a reliable informer is able to provide a translation for the inner codes of a criminal organization, as well as supply tangible proof against a organized crime suspect to be brought under surveillance. Informants and surveilllance thus go hand in hand.
As to undercover operations, they are only undertaken when deemed absolutely necessary. It is difficult to infiltrate a criminal organization as an undercover agent because it is based on ethnicity, strict codes of conduct (violations of which may easily result in death), and internal references. New entrants to criminal organizations are screened diligently and undercover officers put themselves under an incredible amount of life risk. Undercover work is also a long-term and expensive process, as it takes time to gain the criminal organization's trust, and it also takes long to obtain useful information. Informants, on the other hand, are a much more readily available source of information once their reliability is established, and such information comes at much lower cost and risk.
Informants are also vital in cases when a new criminal organization is identified, because they provide information that can be analyzed to identify the members and activities of the organization as well as know more about its attitudes and aspirations. There is a lot of public apathy to cases where organized crimes are involved, and it is often hard to find witnesses from the public in such cases. Arrested criminals associated with such crimes are thus very valuable when they turn informants in exchange for lesser charges or other incentives.
Although it is widely known that informants, being criminals themselves, are never to be completely trusted, in the