Street Sources, Part 4 - Tactics and Weapons -

Street Sources, Part 4

Finding informants in the street's invisible army



Chuck Remsberg | From the April/May 2006 Issue Friday, March 31, 2006

This column first appeared on

When Trainer Pat McCarthy was working undercover for the Chicago Police Department, hanging out in bars, pool halls and other public places where he could rub shoulders with gangbangers and other habitual lawbreakers, he was struck with how freely bad guys talked about the crimes they'd dreamed of and committed.

"Self-incrimination spewed out of their mouths as thick as their halitosis," McCarthy told PoliceOne. "They'd even get into shouting matches over whose gun took down some shooting victim. I felt like a priest in a confessional."

The ears that hear these things belong not only to other felons or cops in disguise. Indeed, there is a vast army of people who for the most part are not of the criminal element but whose proximity to that world puts them in position to hear and see things of vital interest to you as a crime fighter.

Because these people belong where they are, due to where they live or work, they tend to blend into the environment, virtually invisible to the street thugs you're after. If you take the time and effort to develop friendly relations with them, you'll be surprised how many secrets they'll pass on.

"When I was a rookie, an old-timer told me, 'Kid, you can spend your whole life riding around in a squad car and never know what's going on. You've got to get out and mix with people,'" recalls McCarthy, creator and lead instructor for the popular Street Crimes seminars. He advises, "Treat everyone you come in contact with as a potential resource for information. You never know exactly whom you're talking to, whom they talk to or who else talks to them, or what they'll overhear before you see them next time around.

"Bad neighborhoods all have good people living and working in them. They may have seen the gangbangers grow up from an early age. They may have sons and daughters who hang with gangsters or their associates. They may have friends or relatives who are connected to criminal activity. They may hear rumors and gossip that flow like a river through the streets.

"Many will be willing to feed you useful information without any compensation. But they don't want to be documented as formal CIs. If you limit yourself only to those you can sign up, photograph and fingerprint as informants officially recognized by your agency, you'll miss many golden opportunities."

Here are just a few of the prospects you might look to for help, beyond the obvious snitch candidates.

The Invisible Army

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.

Service Employees

"Make friends with postal carriers, package deliverers, utility repair people and cable TV installers," McCarthy suggests. "People like this know where the hinky houses are.

"I've had cable guys call me on many occasions to report that they've just been in a house or apartment of a drug dealer. While the TV guy is rigging up cable, the dope dealer is on the phone talking about drug deals, not perceiving the installer as a threat.

"One time a utility rep told me about an apartment where he saw a large amount of computer equipment. He thought it might be stolen, and it was."

Park attendants, crossing guards and others who are regularly on the street make good contacts, too.

Business People

"They spend an awful lot of time in a neighborhood, even if they live someplace else," McCarthy explains. "They usually hire local people and they hear all kinds of gossip and street talk. Employees coming to work on Monday usually talk about what happened over the weekend."

Because business owners or managers have a financial interest in what happens in their area, they're often willing to cooperate quietly if you approach them discreetly. Especially cultivate bar and restaurant owners. "Gangbangers and other criminals often try to sell stolen merchandise or move dope in these places, and the element tends to congregate there. When people are drinking they get loose lips about what's going on in their lives."

Get to know desk clerks and maids in local hotels and motels. Drug pushers often conduct deals in these premises. Gangbangers and other criminals may go into hiding there after major crimes. "Clerks and maids usually know who's up to no good," McCarthy says.

Landlords, Building Managers & Janitors

"They usually know when an apartment is being used by gangbangers, and they may be happy to cooperate with you in hopes of ridding their buildings of this trash," McCarthy says. "They may have license plate numbers, nicknames, drug-stash locations, all kinds of valuable intelligence."

Community Leaders

"Some are highly critical of cops, and you may have to work extra hard to convince them you're there to help them and their constituency," says McCarthy.

"Keep in mind there are generally two types of leaders. One kind grabs headlines and is probably most interested in self-promotion and the exploitation of controversy. But there are always informal leaders quiet, competent individuals who genuinely inspire confidence in those around them. Work with them. People tend to go to them instead of to the police about problems in the neighborhood. They are worth your nurturing."



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Chuck RemsbergChuck Remsberg is a senior contributor for He co-founded the original Street Survival Seminar and the Street Survival Newsline, authored three of the best-selling law enforcement training textbooks, and helped produce numerous award-winning training videos. Remsberg’s nearly three decades of work earned him the prestigious O.W. Wilson Award for outstanding contributions to law enforcement, and the American Police Hall of Fame Honor Award for distinguished achievement in public service.


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