Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Searching for snitches in the want ads?

Police in Albuquerque, N.M. have become so reliant on snitches to solve cases that when they couldn't generate enough informants organically they began to advertise in the local paper, we learn from USA Today:

The Albuquerque Police Department put a want ad in the city's weekly newspaper for "people that hang out with crooks to do part-time work."

"Make some extra cash! Drug use OK. Criminal record? Not a problem." The ad in the Weekly Alibi prompted 93 calls during its two-week run before it was taken down last week, police spokesman John Walsh said.

He said some calls yielded valuable information in a drug investigation and two violent crime cases. Walsh said the ad will run again "as soon as the detectives feel they need the help" and it could become a model for other agencies.

That's just bizarre! Usually informants' connection to police occurs because of a specific case and the needs of a particular investigation, but in Albuquerque they're literally soliciting snitches in the want ads.

There are many problems with this really bad idea, but just for starters, can you believe they included the line, "Drug use OK"? Really? The police department used tax dollars to run advertising with the message "Drug use OK"?

I realize that's how snitching works ... hell, in many cases drug dealing is considered okay, sometimes for years on end. That's why law prof Alexandra Natapoff argues that widespread use of snitches can be "crime producing and corrupting." In more than a few cases, murder and violent crime have been tolerated. But it's still pretty shocking to see them say it in print.

Others quoted in the article worried that soliciting criminals in such an open-ended fashion would lead to false accusations:

"In an economy when jobs are scarce, this is just asking people to make up information for money," said Ellen Yaroshefsky, a legal ethics professor at New York's Benjamin Cardozo School of Law. "This is extremely dangerous."

In 15% of cases involving a wrongful conviction overturned by DNA evidence, an informant or jailhouse snitch testified against the defendant, said Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project, which seeks to free the wrongfully convicted.

There's also the risk of snitches using police to further their own criminal interests rather than with an aim of reducing crime. An officer quoted in the story told USA Today "you have to be careful. [Informants] may be playing their own games."

Finally, the story identifies two agencies that recently reformed their policies regarding confidential informants:

• Atlanta police amended their policies in 2007 and again this year after a botched drug raid based on an informant's tip, spokesman Otis Redman said. Supervisors must witness informant payments, and sources must undergo credibility checks.

• The Tallahassee Police Department reviewed its policies after the shooting death of an informant in May, Capt. David Hendry said. The new policy allows only 30 of 360 officers to oversee cases involving informants.

They could have added to the list reforms implemented at Dallas PD requiring greater documentation and oversight of informants after the infamous "fake drug" scandal. (Similar changes, at a minimum, are needed at the Dallas Sheriff.)

Look for some of these issues to be debated in the 81st Texas Legislature in light of the recent spate of DNA exonerations. State Senator Rodney Ellis, who is the board chair of the national Innocence Project out of New York, has filed SB 260 which would require an admissibility hearing before jailhouse snitch testimony could be heard by a jury, mandates full disclosure of witness inducements, and requires a cautionary jury instruction whenever witnesses receive a reduced sentence in exchange for testimony.


Anonymous said...

Charles Kiker here:

Scott, this is remarkable. Advertising for snitches, advertising for crooks to make up stories on other crooks for pay. Let's amend that just a bit: crooks advertising for crooks to make up stories on other crooks.

Interestingly enough, Amarillo Globe News, usually hard right law'n'order, ran an op. ed. by syndicated columnist Froma Harrop this past Sunday advocating drug legalization. Harrop's article leaned heavily on LEAP.

Also interesting: Tulia had a local option referendum on sale of alcoholic beverages this past election. Tulia has been dry ever since there was a Tulia. A local wag philosophized, "No wonder it don't rain around here. We voted dry a hunnerd years ago. It won't rain until we vote wet." Well, Tulia voted wet, by a considerable margin. (It hasn't rained yet.) Before the election I was talking to a conservative evangelical friend. (Yes, I have some of those.) I told him we would probably cancel out each others' votes on the liquor question. He said, "You might be surprised how I vote on that. You might be even more surprised to know that I would favor the legalization of marijuana." I was surprised, and I am hopeful.

Anonymous said...

Programs like Crimestoppers work on the same principle, advertising for informant information and has been around for many years. And not all snitches calling into this program are law abiding citizens!

Reliability and credibility of a "snitch" and snitch information is weighed by a magistrate who must determine if the two prong test of Aguilar has been met, not the police.

Anonymous said...

"Finally, the story identifies two agencies that recently reformed their policies regarding confidential informants:"

it doesn't look as tho there is any danger of this becoming a trend. I'll not use real names or places in a county I'll call Probablydenton continues to use John Aclingingvine again just a made up name, as a snitch after finding him or her mentally incapacitated from an accident resulting in brain damage. in a civil court in that same county