Amherst Ends Confidential Student Informant Program


University of Massachusetts Amherst Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy has put an end to a UMass police department program that allowed students to become confidential informants for drug investigations.

The decision came after a three month review by a campus working group made up of 11 members.  The end of the review came with a 31-page report from the group, who unanimously recommended that the confidential informant program come to an end, at least in its present form.

The program had been suspended last September after a Boston Globe report of the 2013 death of a UMass Amherst student informant due to a drug overdose raised suspicions concerning the use of informants by the campus police department.  The student had joined the informant program in an effort to stay out of trouble after being caught with drugs, but his parents had never been informed of the goings-on, nor did he receive any treatment for his drug use, reports Nina Bourne for LearnU.

Before the suspension of the program, no informants had been used by the police force in the last year.

“After careful consideration, I’ve concluded that enlisting our students as confidential informants is fundamentally inconsistent with our core values,” Subbaswamy said. “Building trust, sharing common goals and demonstrating compassion in a safe and caring environment create the foundation for a vibrant educational community,” said Subbaswamy. “Through this process, we have determined that our Police Department and Student Affairs division can employ other approaches as it continues to combat illegal drug use, possession and sales and protect the members of our campus.”

According to the report, campus police have used student informants in drug cases for some time, with around half of all drug arrests in the past 18 months the result of having used those informants, writes Karen Brown for NEPR.

The report discusses a number of issues concerning the program, including unintentional effects on the participants, missed opportunities to help potentially addicted students, the idea of having prospective informants consult with legal counsel, and the lack of parental notification with regards to either being an informant, or using drugs.  The group went on to say that there should have been more communication between the police department and other campus departments with regards to their informants.  The report also mentions a concern that the program could in fact make students less trusting of police and therefore less willing to cooperate in the future, reports Eric Bosco for The Boston Globe.

Also involved in the decision-making process was former Middlesex County District Attorney Gerard Leone, an attorney with Nixon Peabody LLP, a Boston law firm.  During his time as district attorney from 2007-2013, Leone worked on a number of drug cases and other issues concerning 26 colleges and universities in Middlesex County.

The report finishes by stating that the end of the program in no way ends any anti-drug activity on the campus.  Drug laws will continue to be enforced by the police department, as well as the school, reports Kelsey Thibodeau for WGGB.

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