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Speaking Truth to Power

Confidential Informants and Police Investigations

Dean A. Dabney (Author), Richard Tewksbury (Author)


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Domestic drug enforcement takes many forms, from the rural patrol officer who happens upon a small-scale mobile “shake and bake” methamphetamine lab during a routine traffic stop, to the city narcotics detective who initiates a low-level buy-bust operation that nets a few hits of crack cocaine on the street corner, to the local, state, and federal agents working in multiagency task forces that coordinate a sting operation that nets thousands of kilos of near-pure cocaine being transported by tractor-trailer. Regardless of the form, there is a high probability that these authorities have exploited access to known offenders and exerted pressure on those individuals to gather inside information on illicit drug sales. These confidential informants provide intelligence on the inner workings of drug operations in exchange for leniency or remuneration, providing a relatively cheap source of intelligence that fuels much of the ongoing war on drugs. In other instances, law enforcement authorities will reach out to members of the criminal underworld who are willing to provide valuable intelligence in exchange for money. Despite the central role of informants in contemporary police operations, little is known about the shadowy relationships among law enforcement, snitches, and offenders. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in the narcotics, homicide, and street-level vice operations in two major metropolitan police departments, Speaking Truth to Power takes readers to the front lines of the war on drugs to unravel this complex web of information exchange.

1 • Police and Confidential Informants
2 • Study Methods
3 • Types of Informants
4 • Working with Informants
5 • The Game: Th e Impact of Community Context on Informant Use
6 • Maintaining Relationships with Informants
7 • Benefits of Working with Informants
8 • Pitfalls of Working with Informants
9 • Summary and Implications

Dean A. Dabney is Associate Professor of Criminal Justice and Criminology at Georgia State University.
Richard Tewksbury is Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Louisville. 
"An excellent work that earns its rightful place alongside other scholarly CI literature... well-written and extends the theoretical literature on CIs."—Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Books
“Dean A. Dabney and Richard Tewksbury have produced an important book. Based on years of fieldwork with police, Speaking Truth to Power takes the reader into the world of confidential informants. In the tradition of Gary Marx and James Q. Wilson, they build a picture of the relationships, activities, and organization of this important yet under-studied practice. This book is sure to be a classic for its treatment of the subject and methods of study.”—Scott H. Decker, Foundation Professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Arizona State University

“Confidential informants have come to play a pivotal role in how contemporary policing and criminal justice are practiced. In Speaking Truth to Power, Dabney and Tewksbury shine a light on the subterranean world in which police seek to develop and work with informants. Through careful and meticulous fieldwork, they illuminate some of the complexities of the informant role and open up an important area for future scholarship that has been relatively neglected by criminologists.”—Martin Innes, Professor in the School of Social Sciences and Director of the Crime and Security Research Institute, Cardiff University

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