Informants and Promotion Exams

Foremost among my thoughts on informants is that I wouldn't want to find myself at the mercy of anyone whose inclination to sell out others has been well established.

Author Dean Scoville Headshot

Photo: Kelly BrackenPhoto: Kelly Bracken

Is there anything that the holiday season doesn't encroach upon? Diets go to hell, the seasonally afflicted fall apart, and intended New Year's Resolutions get kicked to the curb. I didn't even get to see Dick Clark this year. (Yes, I know he’s gone.) But there is a saving grace to all this holiday hassle. I have time to touch on a few matters that have been dominating my thoughts.


Watching a "60 Minutes" segment the other night, I came away with the impression that not only did it not bode well for the informant profiled, it presented problems for the CIA that had at one time contracted him. The dispute between the two parties oriented around the degree to which the informant had been responsible for the CIA's ability to successfully track down, target, and assassinate a terrorist who was a one-time close friend of the informant. The subject of the segment claimed that it was his work that availed the agency the opportunity to kill the target. The CIA asserted its fateful intel was acquired through a parallel investigation, and independent of the informant.

The CIA hadn't paid the informant the reward money associated with the target’s capture, and he has since gone out of his way to register his protest both formally and informally, including via a one-on-one meeting that he secretly recorded in an airport. On the tape, a CIA contact's assurances of the informant’s value to the investigation does little to dissuade one of the opinion that the man's instrumentality in the neutralization of the threat was substantial.

Still, the fact that the informant approached "60 Minutes" with the intent of revealing all that he is capable of doing is something of a surprise except for one thing: The inherent nature of informants, one that recalls the story of the scorpion who stings the frog midstream because it was simply in his nature to do so.

As such, it would've seemed to me that the CIA would have recognized it had a little bit of a rogue threat in this informant and would have been smart to do some damage control on the front end, if not by doing right by him with reward money, then giving him some manner of a credible debriefing so as to assuage his concerns that he was getting screwed over. Personally, my conscience would have been fine even appeasing him with hush money. We spend far more than that on Congress and with less profit to show for it.

As it stands, the situation has devolved to the point that this particular contact has not only put himself in danger but effectively compromised the ability of the agency to procure future informants. Certainly, the more mercenarily driven of such players now have one more thing to consider when it comes to the prospect of dealing with the CIA. And the fact that the CIA allowed the segment to be aired without having any instrumental input on the matter speaks volumes, as well. (But then, I have never been impressed with how law enforcement, the intelligence community, or the military addressed their critics.)

Only in the most liberal definition—i.e., that witnesses can be considered among their number—can I claim any experience in dealing with informants, and I sure as hell wouldn't classify myself as an expert. But one needn't have the experience of a bathosphere to imagine the pressures a body can experience as it sinks deeper into the ocean, and when it comes to dealing with informants, there are a few things that I filed away early on.

Foremost among my thoughts on informants is that I wouldn't want to find myself at the mercy of anyone whose inclination to sell out others has been well established. Also, if for any reason I did have cause to deal with one, I tried to honor my implicit obligations to that informant, tried not to put that person in undue danger, and did my best to soften his or her landing wherever possible. On those occasions when I was obligated to include the names of informants in some manner of documentation I was conscientious in articulating what they did NOT do and did NOT say. This served a two-fold purpose: creating the impression of an objectively rendered investigation and, should the defendant's eyes ever become privy to its contents, made the case that there were stronger corroborative factors that sealed his or her fate.

Promotional Exams

A friend is prepping for a forthcoming promotional exam and I shared some of the following thoughts with him as they related to the oral portion of it. The best advice I ever received was from a friend who successfully mentored me through my sergeant exam. He said that when it came to scenario-based questions that it's best to view them in terms of "wall-to-wall" responses. In other words, take each part of the question and address the points from A-to-Z in as roughly a linear, hierarchical, or chronological order as possible. Such an answer shows your ability to mentally think things through in a logical manner and avails you the means to touch on each of the desired anchor points that the oral board is looking for.

You could also subtly divide the answers by first announcing the immediate and longterm implications of the problem. For instance, in being apprised of an alleged unreported use of force by a subordinate, you could touch on the immediate and longterm concerns for the department, the community, and the individual officer as follows:

• Possible ethical improprieties,

• Establishment of a precedent, or symptom of ongoing behavior

• Bad stuff for the officer/department

• The importance of avoiding a witch hunt or going off half-cocked since the allegation could have been fabricated

To address these inherent concerns, you can then lay out the process by which you would address the matter, including the articulation of following concerns:

• Adherence to appropriate in-house protocol throughout the investigation (e.g., officer's bill of rights, union reps, appropriate notifications, referrals, etc.)

• Post-event follow-up and safeguards to ensure the problem won't recur, revisiting aggrieved parties, the importance of finding silver linings, establishing and maintaining a favorable rapport with the troops, etc.

For me, I found this to be the easiest template to adhere to as it basically bifurcated the concerns of the oral examination. First, it allowed me to showcase my knowledge of the myriad factors at play in any given incident. Then, it allowed me to lay out a step-by-step plan by which I would address the problem in a satisfactory manner. Also, in articulating my responses in either area, it availed me—as in the kind of serendipitous revelations associated with brainstorming—a means of reminding me of something to touch on in the other area. For instance, if in responding to the second part—i.e., the processes I would employ—I might be reminded of another philosophical concern. I could either allude then and there as to how the action taken would relate back to some philosophical component, or make a mental note to revisit that fact in my summary wrap.

The summary wrap was a failsafe. It was basically a bullet-point summation of my concerns and actions as a watch commander, one that wrapped with something to the effect of: "By employing such measures, I believe that the situation would be resolved in a manner that is fair and reasonable." Period.

Another tip: I would make a point of visually fixating on one board member at a time. I found that by fixating my gaze I was simultaneously able to better focus on my response by not worrying about making eye contact with the next person or whether he or she might feel visually slighted. That evaluator would simply be the next person I would commit my gaze on once I moved on to the next part of my answer.

I don't know that any readers would prove sweaty-hand candidates, but I will suggest that there are worse things to bring with you than something to wipe your hands and forehead with ahead of time.

Bonus: Spot The Lie

But he's a good boy.

He was just beginning to turn his life around.

I know my rights.

I didn't see a thing.

I'm innocent.

It's for protection.

I did not have sex with that woman.

Going to the SHOT Show in Las Vegas? If so, stop by the POLICE Magazine booth and say, "Hi."


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