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September 6, 2012

Lengthy New Yorker piece about confidential informants

This new piece in The New Yorker discusses the harmful realities faced by some offenders working as confidential police informants. (And this NPR segment discusses the issue further).  Here is an excerptfrom the piece:

Informants are the foot soldiers in the government’s war on drugs.  By some estimates, up to eighty per cent of all drug cases in America involve them, often in active roles ....  For police departments facing budget woes, untrained C.I.s provide an inexpensive way to outsource the work of undercover officers.  “The system makes it cheap and easy to use informants, as opposed to other, less risky but more cumbersome approaches,” says Alexandra Natapoff, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and a leading expert on informants.  “There are fewer procedures in place and fewer institutional checks on their use.”  Often, deploying informants involves no paperwork and no institutional oversight, let alone lawyers, judges, or public scrutiny; their use is necessarily shrouded in secrecy.

“They can get us into the places we can’t go,” says Brian Sallee, a police officer who is the president of B.B.S. Narcotics Enforcement Training and Consulting, a firm that instructs officers around the country in drug-bust procedures.  “Without them, narcotics operations would practically cease to function.”

Every day, offenders are sent out to perform high-risk police operations with few legal protections.  Some are juveniles, occasionally as young as fourteen or fifteen.  Some operate through the haze of addiction; others ... are enrolled in state-mandated treatment programs that prohibit their association with illegal drugs of any kind.  Many have been given false assurances by the police, used without regard for their safety, and treated as disposable pawns of the criminal-justice system.

September 6, 2012 at 02:19 AM | Permalink

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Comments

I see no irony in using an army of criminals to catch criminals.

Posted by: Jardinero1 | Sep 6, 2012 10:32:02 AM

This story brought to mind a client I represented almost 20 years ago. He was just an undersized, somewhat scrappy, but definitely punk, kid, who was too dumb to stay out of trouble. Police kept arresting him for small/traffic type infractions. They stayed on him and eventually got him for worse stuff, i.e. drug possession. Ultimately, they forced him to be their informant. He feared going to prison and informing was the only way he could stay out. He tried for a while, but the pressure was too much and he jumped in front of a train. He was 20 years old and way too immature to handle the responsibility heaped on him by the officers. This really didn't need to happen. Even if it's internal - within the police department - there should be some oversight on the use of informants.

Posted by: defense attorney | Sep 6, 2012 10:51:37 AM

The biggest problem I have seen with CI's is that they have an incentive to create crimes where none would have occurred otherwise. If they've been arrested enough times, real drug traffickers don't trust them. So they find some pathetic drug user and ask him to help them find a large amount of drugs. Usually, it takes months, because the target is also pathetic that real drug dealers don't trust him either. But eventually, he finds someone willing to provide him with a kilo of powder cut so many times that it's basically worthless, and the DEA swoops in to snatch up their prize. Now the taxpayers are room and board for a drug "trafficker", whose sole instance of drug trafficking was selling to a paid government informant.

Posted by: C.E. | Sep 6, 2012 10:46:43 PM

C.E. --

Here's the answer to your problem: Nobody solicits, sells, buys or uses cocaine. But if people insist on entering that world, yes, bad things are going to happen.

The thing to do is for these people to make better decisions about what they're going to do with their time. If they can't do that, maybe they can at least accept a modicum of responsibility for their fate rather than whining that it's all someone else's fault.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 6, 2012 11:06:48 PM

I'd like to have law enforcement and prosecutors make better decisions.

A better use of tax payer dollars would be to investigate and prosecute violent crime and crime with a definable victim. These are the crimes most care about.

Prosecutions depending on paid informants to build conspiracy cases are indeed attractive as they do not rquire the level of evidence needed for other prosecutions and the CI does the work.

Posted by: beth | Sep 7, 2012 11:27:07 AM

Posner has seen the light:

'Judge Richard A. Posner, a Chicago law school professor and Reagan-appointed jurist on the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, said Thursday that the criminalization of marijuana is “really absurd,” explaining that he sees no difference between the currently-criminalized substance and cigarettes.

“I don’t think we should have a fraction of the drug laws that we have,” he said, speaking to an audience at Elmhurst College in Illinois. “I think it’s really absurd to be criminalizing possession or use or distribution of marijuana. I can’t see any difference between that and cigarettes.”

Posner added that he’s also “skeptical about the other drug laws,” saying it’s not “sensible” to apply criminal law to solve the problem of addiction.

Of course, the irony in Posner’s comments is that he was appointed by a president who went down as one of the nation’s most charasmatic drug warriors ever: President Ronald Reagan, who once declared that he was convinced “smoking even one marijuana cigarette is equal in brain damage to being on Bikini Island during an H-bomb blast.”

Later in his speech, a wide-ranging talk on the troubles posed by the interaction of capitalism and democracy, Posner went on to say that President Barack Obama’s auto-bailouts were “a very good thing” because they saved so many jobs, but added that the healthcare reform bill “probably impeded recovery” somewhat because it created uncertainty in the markets.

The respected conservative jurist made headlines recently when he declared to National Public Radio that he’d become “less conservative since the Republican Party started acting goofy.”

This video was published to YouTube on Friday, Sept. 7, 2012.

Posted by: onlooker | Sep 7, 2012 6:00:06 PM

only one little problem with this statment bill!

"C.E. --

Here's the answer to your problem: Nobody solicits, sells, buys or uses cocaine. But if people insist on entering that world, yes, bad things are going to happen.

The thing to do is for these people to make better decisions about what they're going to do with their time. If they can't do that, maybe they can at least accept a modicum of responsibility for their fate rather than whining that it's all someone else's fault."

That all goes OUT THE WINDOW when it's the police causing the BAD THING as you call it. When they blackmail and coerce CHILDREN in some cases to become CI's

I don't really have a problem with volunteers IF LE can PROVE they really volunteered! Other than that FOREGET IT!

sorry but i've always though it was retarded to have someone walk in and say "hey i want to tell you about a criminal activity" or say the same after getting caught for someting else!

becasue MY first question is always gonna be ..."NICE! BUT HOW DO YOU KNOW ABOUT IT!"

sorry that answer is almost always gonna be ..."They are PART OF IT!"

Posted by: rodsmith | Sep 10, 2012 1:22:09 AM

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