Who knows better what’s going on in campus life than the students? No one, and this is why cops often use students as confidential informants. The practice is risky, controversial and being called into question across the country. Police bust a student for a drug offense and then offer to make it disappear in exchange for informing on others. It may be a simple snitch, but in many cases the officers put these young, untrained students into dangerous situations.
University Informant Programs
Campus police use confidential informants because the practice results in increased arrest rates. Colleges with a confidential informant program have more drug arrests on and off campus than those that do not. When a student is found guilty of a drug offense such as possession, the police in such a program can offer that student a deal. He can be charged and take the punishment for the criminal offense, or participate as a confidential informant and avoid all charges.
The University of Wisconsin system has several campuses participating in such confidential informant programs. Those campuses using students in this way have seen a spike in arrests for drug offenses as they are able to catch more students thanks to snitching. The program came under fire when one of these students spoke up. Arrested for selling marijuana, Javonni Butler was offered the usual deal: snitch on other students or face criminal charges. He was looking at two separate federal charges, with a possible sentence of three years of jail time, a fine of $10,000 and a criminal record.
Butler said no to the offer, pleaded guilty and served his punishment. He and others are angry about the position in which police put young people. They feel desperate and scared, so they are put in a corner with no choice but to go along with being an informant. Sometimes the role of an informant is as simple as giving up names, but in other cases students are asked to make drug buys with recording devices.
The Dangers Of Being An Informant
It’s when the students, who are untrained for police work, are asked to get involved with drug dealers or drug gangs that the job becomes dangerous. In 2008, a 23-year-old Florida State University student, Rachel Hoffman, became an informant after police found marijuana and Ecstasy in her apartment. They set her up to buy cocaine and a gun from two convicted felons. She met them alone, and two days later cops found her dead body.
Sometimes the risks are less obvious but just as deadly. At the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, a young student caught selling LSD and Molly was brought into the confidential informant program. If he had refused, his parents would have been notified, but he chose to comply and have his secret kept. He ended up dying from a heroin overdose, and his parents never had the chance to intervene and help because they weren’t informed of his drug activities.
The University of Massachusetts has since suspended its confidential informant program, but many other schools are still using students in this way. Supporters cite the fact that these students are adults and can make choices about the consequences of their drug actions. Critics say the programs are unfair and simply too dangerous. Whether more campuses will suspend their programs remains to be seen, but hopefully it will not take more deaths to make that happen.
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