How valuable are Covert Human Intelligence Sources (informers) to policing?

Research Institution / Organisation

Canterbury Christ Church University

Principal Researcher

Kristine Grzibovska

Level of Research


Project Start Date

October 2020

Research Context

​Research into Covert Human Intelligence Sources (both informers and undercover operatives) is rare. In fact, most research on Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHISs) had primarily focused on the legal regulations and/or ethical complications with the use of CHISs. The subject of Covert Human Intelligence Sources had been brought up on the Police Foundation’s annual conference further suggesting that more research must be done on this area. The evidence of informers at criminal trial questions the integrity of the criminal justice system and the fairness for both defendants and informers. One must establish whether the use of CHISs is worth the risk and resources spent. A substantial amount of literature emphasises the importance of the use of Covert Human Intelligence Sources highlighting that almost one third of investigations involve the use of covert investigative methods. Some reports, such as Audit Commission 1993, encourage the use of CHISs and claim that Covert Human Intelligence Sources are the most cost-effective tool within policing. Much is still unknown about the use, the value, and the benefits of CHISs. The true value of CHISs were not yet explored and therefore the purpose of this thesis is to establish how valuable Covert Human Intelligence Sources (informers) are to policing. This will be done through the use of consequential mixed-method approach which will allow to explore the topic in-depth.

The research consists of three different phases.The first part of this research will focus on practitioners’ views on the value of Covert Human Intelligence Sources and how it can be measured. The second phase includes the creation of the template, followed by the discussion and improvement through the focus group interview with practitioners. Due to the sensitivity of this phenomenon many academics did not receive approval to undertake the study focusing on CHISs. Yet, unlike other research propositions in this area, the researcher will not have any direct access to confidential information and does not focus on any sensitive information.

The outcome of this research will contribute to further potential nationwide research into the value of Covert Human Intelligence Sources and the development of the template.

Research Methodology

The research will be based on a consequential mixed method approach to explore the value of Covert Human Intelligence Sources in-depth.

Phase 1
The first phase of this research will focus on practitioners’ views on the value of Covert Human Intelligence Sources and how it can be measured. This will be done through semi-structured interviews with officers working in the intelligence role either managing Covert Human Intelligence Sources, supervising or managing those that do, and officers who work as analysts for intelligence purposes. Participants will be recruited on a voluntary basis. Those who agree will be required to answer a set of questions within the semi-structured interviews (It is important to mention that at any point participants will be able to withdraw consent by emailing the principal researcher. When withdrawal of consent is received, all data collected will be permanently deleted). Interviews will be audio recorded on an encrypted audio device. Recordings will be immediately uploaded onto the secure computer system at Canterbury Christ Church University. The physical recording will be then destroyed. Interviews will be continued until data saturation is reached. Data analyses of semi-structured interviews will be conducted through thematic analyses using NVivo software program with the anonymity of participant identities secured.

Phase 2
Data analysis of semi-structured interviews from phase one will be used for the creation of a template. This template will focus on identification of the value of Covert Human Intelligence Sources based upon participants’ perspectives. (No sensitive or personal data will be used in this research). The template then will be discussed with practitioners through the use of focus groups, in order to ensure it is fit for purpose for the final phase.

Phase 3
The created template will then be utilised within the final stage of this research. The ‘gatekeeper’ will be asked to either disclose internal reports on staff costing, running costs, and any other costs that were involved in Covert Human Intelligence Sources based cases, or asked to complete the survey for a selected number of CHIS’s, which would focus on value and costs. This last stage will focus on Covert Human Intelligence Sources’ over 3-year time period. (The researcher will not have any direct access to any sensitive information). The analyses of this will allow consideration of whether Covert Human Intelligence Sources were, specifically in the 3-year period analysed, of value or not, and will also assist in further developing the template. All data and personal information will be stored securely within CCCU premises in accordance with the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) and the Data Protection Act 2018. Research will be carefully sanitised and discussed with the contributing police force before any dissemination of results of the study.

Date due for completion

January 2022
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