This is my last post as a guest blogger. I have greatly enjoyed the opportunity to think deeply about the problems of snitching and policing. Today I want to thing about the dangers inherent in becoming an informant.
The stop snitching movement normally focuses on the cost of snitching to the community. However, two recent cases suggest that the cost of informing can be high because the police insufficiently protect their informants. In the most recent case, from Missoula, Montana, police officers reportedly pressured Colton Peterson, a mentally ill marijuana grower to “work as a ‘cooperative defendant,’ gathering string on potentially more serious drug dealers in the area, and in exchange police would tell prosecutors he had cooperated with the investigation.” Peterson committed suicide, in part, his family claim, because of the pressure to snitch. In another case, police in Tallahassee, Florida, arrested Rachel Hoffman, a college student, “for drug possession and … g[a]ve[ her] the opportunity to avoid multiple felony charges by acting as a confidential informant for the police.” She was told to purchase drugs, including cocaine, from local drug dealers, but was killed during the undercover operation.
In each case, the police appeared to be more concerned to turn non-violent marijuana users into snitches than ensure their safety. In each case, vulnerable young individuals were preyed upon by police not simply to turn states evidence, but to go back into the field as undercover informants, in Hoffman’s case to buy harder drugs than she used, as well as to purchase a handgun. In each instance, the police were criticized for their lack of training in using informants.
Thanks again to Alexandra Natapoff for the opportunity to contribute to this blog.