Why this petition matters
HB 428 Drug-related investigations; use of confidential informants.
SUMMARY AS INTRODUCED:
Use of confidential informants in drug-related investigations. Directs the Department of Criminal Justice Services to establish a model policy for the use of confidential informants in drug-related investigations and to include in such model policy that (i) no individual currently on probation may serve as a confidential informant without notice to his probation or parole officer, (ii) no individual who has recently violated the terms of his probation or parole shall serve as a confidential informant, (iii) law-enforcement personnel shall obtain approval from the appropriate local attorney for the Commonwealth prior to working with a confidential informant, and (iv) such confidential informant shall not unlawfully use or possess any controlled substances. (V) individual must have at least 1 year clean time. (VI) commonwealth attorney must be kept apprised at all times of individuals activity. (VII) if individual is a female she must have a female detective overseeing .
Her Son Needed Help. First, He Had to Help the Police.
Working as a police informant can be deadly—and people with a history of drug use are at extra risk of relapse or overdose.
COURTESY OF DONNA WATSON
Troy Howlett, died of an overdose while working as a police informant against his will in 2018.
Working as an informant comes with great risk. Harmful and violent outcomes, including a violent retaliatory death (which Howlett feared, according to his mother) aren’t uncommon, despite assurances from law enforcement. The inherent secrecy of police investigations and a lack of uniform data collection make it hard to assess the true toll of informant work on people’s lives, but stories like Howlett’s do surface. The case of Rachel Hoffman, a young college student murdered in Florida while working as a drug informant, is likely the most cited instance of what can go wrong. But being found out and killed isn’t the only risk for informants with substance use disorder. As law enforcement around the country cracks down on an opioid and fentanyl epidemic of tragic proportions, informants who are users are particularly vulnerable. Working with police on drug cases puts them in a situation where relapse or deadly overdose is not just possible, but likely.
Luke William Hunt, a former FBI agent who’s now an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Alabama, told me that given the tremendous amount of leverage police have over drug informants, it’s not always clear that informants have a “real choice” when it comes to working with police. “Many are not well-versed in what they’re getting themselves into, the legal ramifications, and also the potential risks that they’re going to be subjected to,” Hunt said.
Even if a drug informant stands to gain from the arrangement, Hunt questions whether most of these leveraged bargains should even exist. “If you put someone in a situation where they have serious risk of hurting themselves through relapse or getting shot, or stabbed, or robbed—even if there’s a potential benefit for them and they’re willing to take that risk—that just doesn’t seem like the kind of thing we do, given basic commitments to the sanctity of life,” Hunt
This is a draft bill and I'm hoping to get it passed into Law. Some states have adopted legislation to address the problem of unreliability of informants.
In recent years, the issue has gained more attention, and today, the “counterproductive injustice of pressuring people with substance use disorders into being informants to work off their drug charges in ways that threaten their sobriety” is more apparent to legislators, Natapoff believes. “Ten years ago, people were not engaged with that particular destructive aspect of drug enforcement,” she said.
One of the “great sins” of the informant market is how it treats vulnerable people, Natapoff told me, noting the lack of a “protective ethos” not just for informants themselves, but also for victims of informants threatened by wrongful conviction. From informants with substance use disorder to immigrants, young people, and people struggling with mental health issues, “all these people are put at risk by the cavalier attitude towards informant safety,” she said.
Watson believes a “protective ethos” or established protocol may have saved her son and other informants like him.
We need change!
You can’t put an addict back into the same slimy pit he fought so hard to get out of!