Alexandra Natapoff is a professor at the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. She specializes in studying the role of snitches in the criminal justice system.
She recently launched the Snitching Blog. So far it focuses on the United States, although hopefully she'll expand her commentary to Canada, Australia and other countries. There is also a great seven minute YouTube video of her testimony about informants at a House Judiciary Committee hearing.
The use of informants in policing is vital. They are often the key to solving serious crimes such as murders, bank robberies, etc. However, informants can also create serious problems in terms of liability, safety and credibility. Police departments need to have strong policies in this area and individual officers need to tread carefully.
Another area of concern is the use of confidential sources to prosecute consensual crimes such as drug trafficking. Sometimes an informant who committed a non-consensual crime will get released from custody or even have charges dropped in exchange for information about a drug dealer. (A non-consensual crime is one that involves an actual victim, such as a theft or an assault.) Does this make sense? Where should the enforcement priority lie?
Clearly there are lots of ethical and practical issues around the use of informants and I look forward to learning more through her blog.