Why Are Cops Forcing Young People To Be Criminal Informants?

By Zachary Siegel 12/08/15

A recent segment on 60 Minutes brought the shadowy and sometimes deadly world of confidential informants to light.

police interrogation.jpg

Here lies one of the more grotesque symptoms of the war on drugs. It’s common for local law enforcement to spindle low-level drug dealers—many of whom are college-aged kids selling some pot— into becoming criminal informants, or CIs, to catch other drug dealers, according to a recent segment of 60 Minutes.

Secretly working for the law, these informants entrap people during drug buys in exchange for cash or a reduction of their punishment. “It's a practice we discovered that's going on across the country, largely under the radar—and in some cases, with tragic consequences,” said 60 Minutes reporter Leslie Stahl.

“These kids are being recruited to do the most dangerous type of police work," Tallahassee attorney Lance Block, who vehemently opposes the use of young informants caught for minor offenses, said during the segment. "They're going undercover with no background, training, or experience. They haven't been to the police academy.”

One such case that ended in disaster involved a young woman named Rachel Hoffman. She was a recent college graduate who was caught with marijuana, Valium, and ecstasy pills. Officers quickly folded her into informant status. Soon after, she was entrusted her with $13,000 to buy 1,500 ecstasy pills, an ounce and a half of cocaine, and a gun—items with which she was previously naive to dealing.

The suppliers changed locations of the deal at the last minute. The cops lost track of Rachel, who was later found dead in a ditch with five gunshot wounds, next to her purse where the wire was found. She was 23.

Stahl asked Block how many more gruesome cases like Rachel’s there are. Block said, “Law enforcement is loaded with statistics. But you cannot find out any information about the number of confidential informants that are being used across this country, much less the number of people who are being killed or injured.“

“It's a shadowy underworld, is what it is,” he concluded.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.