Street Sources - Tactics and Weapons -

Street Sources

Part one of a four-part series

Chuck Remsberg | From the November/December 2005 Issue Wednesday, November 30, 2005

This column first appeared on

"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:

  1. Infiltrate places or groups you will never get into even as an undercover cop;
  2. 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;
  3. 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
  4. 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, 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


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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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