Unnecessary Evil - Solutions: Limit Informant Use

October 29, 2007

The use of informants is inherently dangerous. After all, police must entrust key investigative roles to known criminals. While the dangers associated with the informant system may be worthwhile trade-offs in the context of solving serious crimes, like murder, rape and terror cases, they are unnecessary evils when it comes to catching low-level, non-violent drug offenders.

> SOLUTIONS
> Base federal funding on the dismantlement of drug trafficking organizations, not the production of arrest numbers.
> Prohibit the use of informants for solving non-violent crimes, such as drug possession.
> Require reporting of crimes committed by an informant.

The extreme pressure on police to reach arrest quotas is a driving force for the over-reliance on informants to catch drug offenders. Many federal, state and local police agencies currently measure the success of their drug law enforcement efforts by the number of arrests, not the dismantling of drug trafficking organizations. When funding streams and job promotions are tied to the number of arrests made, the metric for success becomes the existence of more crime, not less – turning the worthy goal of public safety on its head.

Such numbers-driven policing also puts law enforcement officers in an untenable position. Rather than being awarded the recognition and resources needed to make a case against a high-level, violent drug dealer who is responsible for the flow of drugs into the community, police are pressured to show immediate results by making high quantities of lower level arrests.

When police are forced to play the “numbers game” informants often get deployed to catch barrels of small fish, not the big fish. Because the use of informants is inherently dangerous, their use must be limited to catching high-value criminal targets - not to help police log enough arrests.

> LEARN MORE
Ed Burns, co-creator of HBO’s The Wire, break down the destructive effect of numbers-driven policing (remix by Davey D) Listen >>
Texas Narcotics Commander Patrick O’Burke testifies before Congress about the need to redesign performance measures for drug law enforcement. After one year of implementing a “threat model,” as opposed to numbers-driven policing, drug seizures in Texas doubled, while sheer number of arrests plummeted by 40%. In the same year, the Texas Department if Public Safety identified five major drug cartels that are allegedly responsible for bringing over one-half of illegal drugs into the U.S. Read more >>

The Mexican “House of Death” scandal: Informants allowed to commit serious crimes while aiding law enforcement in investigations. Read more >>

> SOLUTIONS
 Federal grants and funding streams should be distributed to local and state law enforcement agencies based on success in dismantling drug trafficking organizations, not the production of arrest numbers. Congress should amend funding qualifications for all federal funding programs, including:
  • Justice Assistance Grant Program (JAG), which replaces the Edward Byrne Memorial State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance Grant Program (Byrne Formula Grant Program) and the Local Law Enforcement Block Grant (LLEBG) Program
  • High Intensity Drug Trafficking Assistance (HIDTA) Program
 Prohibit the use of informants for solving non-violent crimes, such as drug possession.
 Require law enforcement personnel to immediately report knowledge of crimes committed by an informant to a supervisor and to the prosecutor’s office in the relevant jurisdiction. Those who fail to report the criminal misconduct of an informant would face serious discipline, possible criminal charges and the loss of his or her job as a public servant.
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