In the past year, the former police chief of Alorton and East St Louis (MO) Police Departments was caught stealing computer video games in an FBI sting and the former mayor of Alorton pleaded guilty to using the police department to steal and ditribute cocaine. Now, as reported by stltoday.com, the troubled police departments in East St Louis could be subjected increased oversight following the proposed creation of a “Metro East Police District Commission”. Although the four agencies would continue to operate independently, the Commission would impose regulations and standards and have control of their finances.
Any sign of corruption or malpractice among law enforcement is a serious problem. It reduces trust and cooperation leading to the proliferation of problems like the “Stop Snitching phenomenon”. If the new legislation in East St Louis is passed, the new Commission will have to think very carefully about how it can impose improved standards and practices. It is not enough simply to write new policies. Robust systems must be implemented to enable management oversight. abmpegasus helps to address some of these issues, giving management oversight of traditionally opaque areas of policing without compromising confidentiality and security.
The city of Tallahassee, Florida, has approved a $2.6m settlement after the parents of Rachel Hoffman sued the city for negligence leading to the death of their 23-year-old daughter in 2008. Hoffman had been arrested for minor drugs offences and agreed to act as a confidential informant for police in order to get leniency in her sentencing. Unfortunately, the drugs sting went disastrously wrong, ending up with Hoffman being shot dead by the drug dealers that the police were trying to incriminate.
Since these unfortunate events, the state of Florida has introduced “Rachel’s Law”, requiring law enforcement agencies to provide specialist training for confidential informant handlers and implement better safeguards.
Some law enforcement agencies have taken the example of Tallahassee very seriously, implementing robust management processes to reduce the risk associated with confidential informants. However, other agencies still need to take a more proactive approach towards ensuring that informants are used more carefully and intelligently. Rachel’s Law is a good step forward in improving US practices regarding informants, but there is still more progress to be made. Let’s hope that other states take some of these lessons on board and that every effort is made to enhance the requirements under Rachel’s Law to ensure that opportunities for risky practices are further removed.
A confidential informant is murdered, the truck he was driving is buried in a wall, a Sheriff’s Deputy is shot by another police officer and four people are injured in a collision with a school bus.
This sounds like the plot of a car chase in a blockbuster movie. Unfortunately it was all the result of an undercover narcotics operation that went badly wrong in Texas last week.
As reported by KHOU, undercover officers from Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO), Houston Police Department (HPD) and members of the Drugs Task Force were following a truck being driven by a confidential informant. The truck was loaded with at least 300lb of marijuana and the law enforcement officers were following it in order to arrest the drug dealers who would receive the delivery. However, whilst en route several other vehicles suddenly appeared, showering the truck with bullets and killing the confidential informant. A gun battle that followed, with officers firing back at the hijackers killing one of them, while another one was hit twice by a patrol vehicle. In the confusion a plain clothes HCSO deputy was allegedly shot in the leg by a HPD officer who didn’t recognise him. A patrol vehicle responding to the scene added to the chaos by colliding with a school bus, injuring the two drivers and two other people.
It is not clear whether the hijackers were intending to steal the drugs shipment or just assassinate the confidential informant. What is clear, however, is that the law enforcement operation certainly did not go to plan, despite law enforcement succeeding in arresting four men accused of storming the truck.
The whole case raises issues over confidential informant anonymity and protection, risk management and deconfliction. When dealing with narcotics and unpredictable drug dealers, mistakes can happen. I just hope that law enforcement went through proper procedures to assess the risk associated with this particular operation before they embarked upon it.
The importance of ensuring informant reliability is currently being demonstrated in federal court as four men are accused of plotting to attack US government officials.
As reported by 11 Alive, the court heard recordings of the men discussing their targets. However, defense lawyers are arguing that the recording have been taken out of context and that they were recorded by an unreliable confidential informant with “a series of legal troubles, including two recent charges of child pornography and child molestation”.
In such cases, corroboration of evidence is crucial – given the seriousness of the charges and the allegations against the informant, one has to hope that the prosecution has some good corroborative evidence up their sleeves.
‘Flaking’, the corrupt practice of law enforcement officers planting drugs on people to justify their arrest, is the subject of a major court trial against eight NYPD undercover officers in the Brooklyn South Narcotics Squad.
The latest revelation, as reported by the Daily Mail, is that one of the accused officers gave cocaine to a woman in return for sexual favours.
The whole debacle highlights the need for improved management practices within undercover law enforcement. Tools, such as abmpegasus, already exist to help law enforcement improve management oversight of undercover operations and operatives. Failure to properly implement and enforce management practices can lead to the sort of abuses of power that are being uncovered in the Brooklyn South trial.
If law enforcement agencies want to maintain the trust of citizens, they must carefully consider their undercover management policies and procedures and ensure that they are vigorously implemented and adhered to.
Congressman Stephen F. Lynch has introduced a bill (the Confidential Informant Accountability Act of 2011 – H.R. 3228) to improve the way that confidential informants are managed by US federal law enforcement agencies. Lynch introduced the bill in response to the James “Whitey” Bulger case in which Bulger, a notorious gang leader acting as a confidential informant for the FBI, is alleged to have gunned down two men.
The legislation would impose a number of safeguards for confidential informant management as well as making it easier for the victims of rogue confidential informants to sue the government for negligence.
The bill would require law enforcement agencies to report any serious crimes committed by confidential informants to Congress every six months. Certain details would have to be included but informant names and identifying information would be excluded to protect anonymity.
The ultimate aim is to improve oversight of confidential informant programme and ensure that the system is not abused by law enforcement officials.
In order to achieve a truly fair and safe system, law enforcement agencies need to think carefully about how their policies and procedures work to assess and mitigate the risks associated with confidential informants. Failure to properly assess a confidential informant for reliability and trustworthiness can have potentially catastrophic consequences. Whilst regular reporting of confidential informants’ illegal activity to Congress may help to prevent some malpractice, it does not necessarily eliminate the potential for other things to go wrong in the system. Confidential informant management software can be a useful tool in helping to achieve this, but if the management of confidential informants is really to improve it is important that internal cultures are addressed as well.
A confidential informant in Wyoming has just lost the appeal against his drug conviction. The informant, Marshal Lewis Washington, had agreed to become a confidential informant for Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation after he was imprisoned for shoplifting. Unfortunately, Washington took this to mean that he was authorised to buy drugs without law enforcement supervision. Before conducting a controlled drug buy, narcotics officers performed a customary search of Washington’s car where they found “an array of controlled substances”… They promptly arrested him for possession.
Despite Washington’s appeal that he believed DCI agents had authorised him to buy drugs on his own, the DCI insisted that he has been thoroughly briefed regarding his role. Washington lost his appeal on Tuesday.
This story, as reported in trib.com, emphasises the importance of properly explaining ground rules and expectation to confidential informants. Failure to do so can, as exemplified here, just facilitate more criminal activity.
Vancouver Police sergeant Duane McNicholas is the latest officer to be disciplined following an investigation into the mismanagement of confidential informant, Tegan Rushworth. As reported by The Columbian, Rushworth, an attractive former Fort Vancouver Rodeo Queen turned methamphetamine user, was working for the police department as a confidential informant. Her handler, Erik McGarrity, engaged in an inappropriate sexual relationship with her. It appears that McGarrity and the other three officers failed to arrest Rushworth despite a warrant being issued for her arrest.
This case illustrates the need for law enforcement agencies to implement robust authorization and management procedures for the use of confidential informants. Proper risk management and management oversight would probably have prevented this embarrassing incident which, as VPD Cmdr. Dave King noted, put the department in potentially litigious situations and allowed the credibility of the agency to be impacted.
As reported by KBC, Kenya’s new witness protection agency was officially launched on Friday. The news comes after months of debate over the need for improved witness protection in Kenya and the passing of the Witness Protection Amendment Bill in 2010. Public pressure for better witness protection in Kenya became particularly prevalent in the aftermath of widespread violence following the contested elections in 2007. The new agency means that witness protection will now be managed independently instead of operating as a unit within the Department of Public Prosecution.
Despite this positive step forwards, some are concerned that the new agency will be under-funded – it had requested 1.2 billion Kenyan Shillings to support its operations but was only allocated Sh300 million (equivalent to £2m GBP or $3.3m USD).
The Witness Protection Act aims to provide protection to people who have important information and face potential risk as a result of their cooperation with prosecution and law enforcement agencies. It is hoped it will help to tackle organised crime and corruption in Kenya.
The existence of adequately funded and managed witness protection programmes in Africa is fairly rare, with South Africa being the only other African nation to have a formal programme. If Kenya’s programme is successful maybe other countries will come to realise the benefit of an independent witness protection agency.
The American Civil Liberties Union is questioning US law enforcement agencies’ use of cell phone tracking data to locate individuals, suggesting that it could infringe upon privacy rights. In an article by ksl.com, the Sheriff of Salt Lake County is reported as saying that additional procedures would require too much time for budget-strapped agencies, while the Chief of Salt Lake City Police explains that cell phone tracking has been successfully used to locate criminals and suicidal individuals.
ACLU wants to ensure that sufficient procedures and protection is in place to make sure that cell phone data is only requested when necessary and proportionate. ACLU of Utah Executive Director Karen McCreary said, “The Fourth Amendment requires that law enforcement demonstrate probable cause and obtain a warrant before accessing private information about an individual. Utahns have a right to know if, how, and how often they are being tracked by the police.”
34 ACLU affiliates across the USA are requesting law enforcement agencies to reveal when, why and how they are using cellphone data to track individuals. ACLU’s full press release can be found at http://www.acluutah.org/CellPhoneGRAMA.html.
ABM provides software to help law enforcement agencies to manage requests for communications data, ensuring that they are proportionate and necessary – abmpegasus Communications.