Of course, if Officer Johnstone had given cocaine to an informant in Texas, the Court of Criminal Appeals would have found a way to let him off. Be that as it may, I was interested in seeing the reference to legislative solutions on this topic. According to a press release from Assemblyman Lentol:
Last September, Brooklyn South narcotics officer Sean Johnstone told a fellow officer that he had paid his confidential informants with cocaine illegally seized from a crime scene. What Johnstone didn't realize, or had forgotten, was that his conversation was being recorded.
The ensuing internal police investigation has resulted in an embarrassing spectacle for the New York City Police Department and the Brooklyn South narcotics division, which includes Park Slope, Midwood and Coney Island and made 7,400 arrests in 2007. Four officers, including Johnstone, were arrested for illegally providing drugs or money to their confidential informants, while another dozen were suspended or transferred to other duties. The disclosures forced the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office to dismiss charges or vacate convictions in 183 cases, and a new commanding officer was appointed to run the department's narcotics unit. ...
The scandal has given renewed life to legislation introduced last year by Brooklyn State Assemblymember Joseph Lentol, which would require law enforcement agencies to publicly disclose information about the use and effectiveness of confidential informants. The legislation would also limit the ability of prosecutors to drop or reduce certain types of charges in exchange for informant information.
Some of Lentol's "transparency" requirements reflect the recommendations three years ago by Prof. Alexandra Natapoff, who's quoted in the Gotham Gazette article. Not many states have substantively tackled this problem, so I'll be interested in seeing what Lentol winds up proposing and passing on this subject. Maybe they'll have some good ideas we can borrow during Texas' 81st Legislature next year.
“No one is trying to stop the practice of using confidential informants. We understand that they can be vital in fighting crime and are an enormous time saver for both police and prosecutors,” said Assemblyman Lentol. “However we are trying to ensure that when they are used it is truly in the best interest of the community and that society is able to have some modicum of oversight and transparency.”
No one knows how often this practice is used or even how it is used. Assemblyman Lentol’s legislation, which was highlighted in a recent New York Times Story, would serve as a jumping off point to study this practice. In addition to putting in some much needed regulations, it compiles annual statistics about the use of informants so that judges, legislators and law enforcement have the tools and information they need to properly regulate this practice.