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Cops Are Recruiting Young Informants in the Drug War -- and Risking Their Lives

When low-level drug offenders become informants in exchange for leniency, lack of protections can make for fatal results.

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AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to Brian Sallee, a police officer who’s president ofBBS Narcotics Enforcement Training & Consulting, a firm that instructs officers around the country in drug bust procedures. He said, quote, "There’s no such thing as training an informant. ... You direct them what to do, and if they follow those directions that will make it safer for them. There’s always going to be a risk, but when things go bad it’s usually because they didn’t do as they were told to. They get themselves hurt, not the officers. The informants cause their own dilemma." Your response to that, Professor Natapoff?

ALEXANDRA NATAPOFF: So, the law is extremely cavalier about the well-being of informants. Essentially, American law treats informants as assuming the risk of anything that might happen to them in the course of this deal. Again, Sarah Stillman has uncovered how shocking and inappropriate that can be, particularly for vulnerable people who are brought into the criminal system. But the law provides very few protections for people who take this risk, and provides vast resources to the government by which to pressure individuals into taking such risks.

And it’s not only risks to personal health and well-being that the law permits. For example, the law permits the government to pressure individuals, women in particular, into having sex with targets in order to bring people into the criminal justice system so that the government can file charges against them for prostitution and other related charges. In other words, the law says that almost anything is negotiable, nothing is off the table. Parents can become informants and take risks in order to work off the charges of their children. Girlfriends can become informants to work off the charges of their boyfriends. Children can be turned into informants to work off the most minor of charges. In effect, we’ve—

AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds.

ALEXANDRA NATAPOFF: In effect, we have left this arena entirely unregulated, and it’s time to bring it into the light.

AMY GOODMAN: Alexandra Natapoff, we want to thank you very much for being with us, professor of law at Loyola Law School, author of Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice_, runs a snitching blog at She testified before the House Judiciary Committee on law enforcement confidential informant practices. And thank you so much to Sarah Stillman. Congratulations on winning the George Polk Award. We’ll link to yourstillman">piece, "The Throwaways," at

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,000 stations in North America. She is the co-author of “The Silenced Majority,” a New York Times best-seller.

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