This is the time of year parents start worrying about back-to-school stuff. For those with college aged kids who will soon go off to live by themselves an extra bit of preparation to think about.
You may not realize it but police departments across the country, especially those near colleges and universities, often “flip” students caught with even a tiny amount of marijuana and recruit them into the ranks of “confidential informant.”
At some universities there is a wide circle of these student-tipsters who have all been made to promise to turn in other campus drug users in exchange for leniency in their own narcotics case.
Here’s how it works. Narcotics officers, working on information from one of these CI’s approaches a particular student, asks to search their room and when they find the expected evidence of drug use they haul the student to the station house.
He or she fails to notice that the officer hasn’t actually placed them under arrest. If they had been, the student would be told about his or her rights to an attorney and to remain silent. The scared kid doesn’t realize that the threat of a decades long prison term is just a tactic to get them to talk.
Sitting in a bleak interrogation room, being questioned by a stern looking officer and worrying about what mom or dad will say if they find out, these first-timers are desperate to grasp at any solution to their dilemma.
Then the answer is presented: Wear a wire and turn in other students willing to sell you drugs. While on the hot seat the student is told they may not tell anyone that they are part of the CI squad. They are often made to sign a document promising to turn in as many as ten other students.
Now for the other side. Police working these details will tell you this is a bona fide tool in the on-going War on Drugs. Who better, they say, to make a monitored buy from a drug dealing student than another student? When asked if all this drama isn’t a bit of overkill for a small amount of marijuana, the officer will likely answer that the law is the law. Marijuana is legal in only four states and the District of Columbia and it is likely not legal on your child’s campus.
But here’s the rub. Sometimes, while departments are increasing their drug bust rates and qualifying for more federal funds, these kids die on the job.
It happened in 2008, to a Florida State graduate named Rachel Hoffman. She had been caught with drugs — twice. The last time Rachel had 5 ounces of pot and ecstasy and Valium pills. She agreed to CI recruitment to avoid prison time.
Rachel agreed to wear a wire, carry $13,000 in cash, 1,500 ecstasy pills, some crack cocaine and a gun to a meeting with two known drug dealers. The location was a public park and some 20 officers, including one in a DEA plane overhead, were on hand to protect her. When the location was changed at the last minute officers lost contact with Rachel. Her body was found in a ditch 48 hours later.
In November 2013, a North Dakota State College of Science scholar named Andrew Sadek was confronted by members of a local police task force with evidence that he had earlier made two small pot sales – $20 and $60 worth – to an undercover student. Andrew had never been in trouble before but once in the interrogation room, threatened with, “40 years in prison and a $40,000 fine,” Sadek agreed to flip.
The interrogation video shows he was encouraged to find dealers who offered heavier drugs than marijuana. Six months later the 20-year-old’s body was found in the Red River bound to his rock-filled backpack, a gunshot wound in his head.
While those are extreme cases these campus recruitments have been widespread, at the University of Alabama, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and others.
Last year it was reported that the narcotics squad near the University of Mississippi recruited about 30 CI’s, most of them students. One, named Greg, told 60 Minutes he was forced to inform after a friend left a package in their room for a second friend to pick up. Student #2 captured Greg’s voice on a recording. The package contained LSD.
To the families of college kids setting out to start their own lives, do them a favor. Cut out this column and send it with them.