WCAX Investigates: Undercover Informant

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) In an effort to crack down on drug trafficking that has contributed to the opioid epidemic, police increasingly rely on confidential informants -- and they're used more often than you think. Our Dom Amato spoke with one to unveil what the process is and the dangers involved.

They go undercover to help the police, putting their lives in jeopardy.

"When you go in, you're choosing to make a risk," said one confidential informant who asked not to be identified. "You never know going in somewhere whether you're going to get robbed, whether you're going to come back out of that house."

Walking into strangers' homes to buy drugs from dealers who are often armed. It's dangerous work, but some are willing to make the sacrifice. Police say confidential informants are vital in drug investigations.

"We rely very heavily on CI's," said Lt. Casey Daniell, who leads the Vermont State Police Drug Task Force in the southern region of the state. "It's the reliability of the information we are getting."

When police investigate large scale drug trafficking operations, CIs are often their ticket in. They usually buy drugs multiple times from the same source. It's all documented and tested to be used as evidence in an eventual case.

Lt. Daniell says tips from the public help get some investigations started. "As minimal as some of the information may seem, it may be very valuable," he said.

Which eventually leads to a CI meeting with dealers first hand. The one we spoke with says he's done over 50 buys from more than 10 suspects targeted by police.

"Once they start asking you to come to their home, that's when your anxiety level will go up, because you're walking into something that you have no idea where you're walking into," he said.

"There's always potential risk," Lt. Daniell said.

These investigations are a long, structured process. Police provide the cash to informants, who then make a number of controlled buys. The CIs aim to form a relationship with the dealers and work their way to the top. "They're not going to allow just anybody to go into these houses," said our CI.

They call them "trap houses" -- homes specifically used to move drugs and cash. The CI says he often wears a hidden microphone and sometimes a camera. There's no script once inside and it's up to him to know when it's time to get out. "I definitely have had to remove myself from a situation," he said.

Lt. Daniell says there's always a safety plan, but wouldn't give any specifics. "I'm not really going to comment on that," he said.

But why would someone become an informant for police? Our CI said some are facing charges of their own and the state is willing to reduce those if they work for them undercover.

Our CI said he got no reward and that the positive impact on communities was enough. "This is my way of being able to know, hey, I might be saving someone, I might be saving someone's life," he said.