This column first appeared on PoliceOne.com
"The best cops don't wait for things to happen. They make things happen on their own." That's Pat McCarthy talking, a 25-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department who now shares a remarkable treasure-trove of street smarts with officers around the country through his popular Street Crimes seminars on how to conduct successful criminal investigations.
One of the best ways to be proactive these days, in McCarthy's opinion, is to cultivate street gang informants. Not necessarily formal CIs who go through your department's registration and identification process, but eyes-and-ears street sources who'll feed you valuable tips on gang actors and their activities.
Impossible? A lot of officers think so. They regard gangbangers' inner circles as virtually impenetrable by outsiders. But they're dead wrong, McCarthy insists.
He spent more than 11 down-and-dirty years working black and Asian street gangs, and although he's Caucasian, he managed time and again to learn their secrets, solve their crimes and send their members to prison, largely through intelligence supplied by informants he developed from scratch with a little creativity and a lot of patience and persistence.
"Every officer, regardless of assignment and whether they're patrol officers or detectives, should develop street sources," he says. "You'll rarely catch a crime in progress, so you have to get bad guys afterwards or before they strike. The best way to do that and to have an impact on crime on your beat is to get out of your squad car and get people in the know to talk to you. If you can get them to like you and trust you, it's amazing what they'll do for you."
Reliable and knowledgeable gang informants, McCarthy explains, can:
- Infiltrate places or groups you will never get into even as an undercover cop;
- Supply intelligence on "everything you need to know about gangs in your area," including their leaders and shooters, their rivals, their graffiti, their vehicles, their crimes, etc;
- Provide probable cause for search warrants, and information that may prove important when a warrant is executed, such as whether the gang's quarters are protected by security cameras or guard dogs, and whether kids or other innocents may be on the premises; and
- Help behind the scenes with interrogations by providing key information that will equip you or other officers to say the right things during questioning to produce confessions.
In short, says McCarthy, good informants "will help you make cases that otherwise would not be possible."
How do you find them, and how do you flip them?
In exclusive interviews with PoliceOne.com, McCarthy talked recently about three well-stocked "talent pools" officers can successfully fish for tattletales. Key will be how you drop your line in the water and what you bait it with.
"You need a friendly, seemingly helpful approach, smooth, convincing patter and a sense for the right psychological moment," he says. "You'll be surprised how much you can do to spin these people."
In this four-part series, McCarthy shares some of the techniques that have worked for him with gangbangers themselves, their associates and other sources in the community who may see or overhear what street gangs are up to.
A Warning-Ticket Favor
"Many cops would be surprised at how upset a 'banger can get over a traffic ticket. They highly value their driving privileges, and you can leverage that," McCarthy says.
When you stop a violator you suspect is a gang member, separate him from any other occupants of the vehicle for a private conversation. "Keep things firm but friendly," McCarthy advises. "I liked to start out, 'My name's Pat .' This catches most street characters off-guard because they're expecting the authoritarian approach."
Let the driver know you're willing to give him or her a break with only a warning but you expect something in return. Maybe bring up a recent incident in the area, like a shooting or robbery. See if the driver might know someone who was recently released from the joint. Try to get him talking. Let him know you're interested in hearing what's happening on the street and who's out and about "so I can do my job."
McCarthy says, "You may get nothing at that time. That's fine. Tell him, 'I know you're not going to say anything to me right now, and I respect that.' Always give him your business card. Try to paper the streets with your card!
"Tell him to call you later anytime, in fact, he has something interesting. This might be the name of someone involved in illegal activity, a rumor about a job being planned, a tip about contraband being moved and so on. Assure him you won't reveal where you heard anything he tells you." In parting, remind him that he got a favor from you this time. You'll be waiting for his favor back.
"Always be on the lookout for opportunities to do small favors," McCarthy says. "They're the strongest currency for cultivating informants."
Some departments have directives that may prohibit street officers from working with informants. The tactics in this article can prove very effective, but check departmental regs to make sure you stay out of trouble. If your agency has such a prohibition, consider talking with an administrator about a modification to permit the use of these techniques. ed.
You're Under Pressure to Charge Him
Say you've been questioning a gang suspect at the station and you finally realize he either wasn't involved in the crime you're investigating or you can't develop enough evidence to charge him and you've got to let him go.
"A plum opportunity to develop a new snitch!" McCarthy says. "I never tell a suspect I don't have enough to lay charges or that I consider him cleared. Especially if he has a sheet, I fake a troubled look as if I'm really torn and I tell him my lieutenant wants me to charge him with something, but I'd like to give him a break. I lay it on, sounding real sincere: 'You don't seem like a bad guy,' I tell him. 'In fact, you remind me of my younger brother, who's had his own problems with the law.'
"Then I claim that I told the lieutenant that 'you're gonna try to help me out' with some information. I ask him if he can think of anything I can use to get my lieutenant off my back. Does he know anyone who has an outstanding warrant? Does he know anyone who's pulling burglaries or who's been involved in other criminal activity? And so on."
Smelling freedom, the gangbanger will often cough up something on the spot. "If not, tell him you're going to let him go anyway. Say, 'I'll tell my lieutenant you'll contact me later with some type of information.'"
Then with your business card in his hand and your "favor" on his back, kick him loose. "You've got nothing to lose at that point," McCarthy says, "and potentially much to gain."
The Violation Ploy
Another ruse: Find a gang member who's on probation or parole and tell him you've heard his probation or parole officer is getting ready to violate him. You're willing to see what you can do on his behalf providing, of course, that he's willing to feed you some useful information.
"Tell him if he can do that, you can argue that he's more valuable to you if he's allowed to stay on the street rather than being snatched up and sent back to prison," McCarthy suggests. Again, what's really an imaginary favor from you may beget real favors from him.
Next issue: Four more creative strategies for getting gangbangers to talk.
For additional valuable strategies for finding, grooming and managing street sources and C/Is, conducting effective street interviews, surveillance tactics, courtroom survival strategies, interrogation tricks & tactics, ethical considerations for the street cop and finding hidden traps and secret compartments, consult the new Street Cop video training series produced by McCarthy in VHS and DVD formats. Call 800/275-4915 or visit www.streetcop.com. McCarthy also created the Street Crimes program, a unique and informative three-day training seminar presented in over 100 cities across the U.S., Canada and Mexico every year. All Street Crimes instructors have at least 20 years of actual street experience. Visit www.reid.com and click on Street Crimes Program, or call 800/275-4915.
Remsberg's column is a PoliceOne.com exclusive, sponsored by Blauer.