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Should you train an informant before an operation?


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  • Should you train an informant before an operation?

    My broad question is this: Does your department offer any type of training to informants?

    Here is the reason I ask. I've been hearing a lot about this case of a Florida State student named Rachel Hoffman, who agreed to be an informant, and was kidnapped and murdered during the operation. She was facing drug charges for marijuana posession, and was told she could either face 4 years in prison, or become an informant. Apparently shortly into the operation, Tallahassee Police Officers lost track of her. Once she was out of their sight, she disappeared. Her body was found two days later approx. 50 miles away.

    This extremely biased newscaster did a small investigation into it, but if you want to read articles about it, there are tons out there. Most are from pro-drug sites and the like, but there are some news articles too, you just have to sift through the other stuff. Here's one that supposedly chronicles her last day: http://www.november.org/stayinfo/bre...inalNight.html

    Opponents of the police department are saying that she wasn't prepared, that they sent her in over her head (they sent her to buy a lot of ecstacy, plus a handgun), it's their fault she was killed, etc. 20/20 did an investigation on this case last week. Did anyone see it, or know if it is available online somewhere?

    The way I see it is that she put herself into this position. Did she deserve to die? Absolutely not, but she did make a choice to be involved with drugs, which eventually led to her demise. Is it the fault of the police department? I hardly think anyone not personally involved with this situation can comment on this. I wasn't a part of it, I don't know what happened, or how they lost her during the meet with the drug dealers... All we know is that she ended up dead. Hoffman's parents are saying she wasn't prepared, she wasn't trained, that the police department threw her into this situation to purchase a large amount of drugs and a firearm without giving her any training.

    My thoughts are that if she's been doing drugs for years now, she probably already has experience with buying drugs from dealers...Perhaps not in the quantity the police department asked her to get...but experience nonetheless.

    How should police prepare informants before sending them into a sting operation?

  • #2
    Here's an article from the St. Petersburg Times online:


    TALLAHASSEE — Rachel Hoffman sent a text message to her boyfriend soon before going undercover as a confidential informant for the Tallahassee Police Department.

    "This is about to go down," he remembers her writing.

    Two days later, her body was found in Taylor County. The drug sting had gone bad.

    On Monday, Tallahassee police Chief Dennis Jones asked the Florida attorney general to review the events that led to Hoffman's death, including the Police Department's procedures.

    "It's such an unusual occurrence, and with the public attention that's been called to it, it called not only for our internal review but also an outside review," Jones told the Tallahassee Democrat. "The AG seemed like a good place to get a second opinion."

    Hoffman, 23, a graduate of Countryside High School in Pinellas County and Florida State University, was supposed to meet two men Wednesday to buy 1,500 pills of ecstasy, 2 ounces of cocaine or crack and a gun. She had $12,000 to $15,000 in cash when she met the men, said her boyfriend, Ben Reeves.

    At 6:41 p.m., she sent Reeves the last text message.

    "She trusted the police," Reeves said. "The cops were supposed to keep her alive. She was a pawn in their game."

    On Monday, State Attorney Willie Meggs and Tallahassee Mayor John Marks asked why other agencies weren't alerted about Hoffman's status as an informer and whether an "outside entity" should investigate.

    "The Tallahassee community deserves an explanation of what occurred," Marks said. "I feel confident we will achieve that result."

    The two men Hoffman had planned to meet — Andrea J. Green, 25, and Deneilo R. Bradshaw, 23 — were arrested in Orlando on charges of robbery and kidnapping. They have not been charged with murder.

    New details released Monday shed more light on how Hoffman went from police informer to murder victim.

    Hoffman had been twice arrested on charges of underage drinking and gotten three traffic tickets before February 2007.

    That's when she was arrested on charges of marijuana possession and resisting arrest. She entered a pretrial drug diversion program to resolve those charges, according to court records.

    She checked in regularly with the court but missed a hearing last summer, leading to another arrest, court records showed.

    Then on April 17, Tallahassee police served a search warrant at her apartment and found marijuana and ecstasy, according to police records.

    She faced "significant jail time" if she had been charged with running a drug house and intending to sell marijuana and ecstasy, Officer David McCranie said. Instead, he said, she agreed to become an informer, and police didn't press their case or book her as a result of the search.

    "The police told her if she got guns and some bad drugs off the street, she would only have to do one or two stings," Reeves said. "She was supposed to do the bust and get off scot-free of her charges."

    Both the Police Department and Hoffman kept mum about the arrangement.

    Hoffman, whose funeral is today, only told her mother, Margie Weiss.

    "She told her daughter not to do it," said the family's attorney, Johnny Devine. "When she didn't hear back from her, she assumed she had taken her advice."

    The FSU psychology graduate didn't mention a word of her work to her father, Irv Hoffman of Palm Harbor.

    "I would have never let her do that," Hoffman said. "This is way out of her league."

    Meggs said Monday his agency didn't know about the search in April. Police are supposed to alert him when a defendant has been arrested or has become an informer because "it's a violation of the drug court terms," he said.

    "We're supposed to be alerted, but I don't know how many times we've not been alerted," Meggs said.

    But the Tallahassee Police Department said its policy is to alert the State Attorney's Office when an offender has violated probation. Hoffman wasn't on probation, McCranie said. She was on "diversion."

    "Diversion is significantly different from probation, and such a charge would not hamper her ability to complete the diversion program," McCranie said.

    McCranie said Hoffman was advised to the dangers of the job.

    "We weren't trying to hide anything here," he said. "Our job is not to ask you or give you legal advice. Ours is to provide you with some options, and then you as an adult, make the informed decision."

    Informers do not go through any formal training, but they are advised of police procedure and rules, McCranie said. The agency has maintained that Hoffman "broke protocol," when she agreed to follow Green and Bradshaw to an "off-site" location.

    The agency lost track of her until her body turned up.

    Hoffman's service is at 11 a.m. today at Temple Ahavat Shalom, 1575 Curlew Road in Palm Harbor.

    [Last modified: May 17, 2008 11:44 PM]


    • #3
      Let the informant inform you. Don't send the informant to do the job of a covert PO or DEA agent. It's sending a sheep in to bait wolves.


      • #4
        It sounds like she didn't do much of what she was told to do, and even was working as a double agent by calling the people she was informing on and telling them what she was really doing. She outsmarted herself by trying to play the detectives, which is the number one way informants get hurt.

        I don't know how any amount of training would help when an informant won't do what they are told, and tries to play both sides.


        • #5
          its sad but no the police are not to blame.
          She was in over her head as soon as she thought this was the easy way out. there is no easy way out of your consequnces. She faced prison time....she prolly would have gotten probation IF she had taken a plea and then stopped her illegal actions.
          I'm with group29 as soon as she double crossed herself she was gone.
          ‘Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.’
          Oscar Wilde


          • #6
            Train them? No.

            Give them instruction and guidance as to what their objectives should be? Yes.

            Blame the PD for what happened? No.

            She was not forced to do anything. She could have declined to cooperate with any investigation or criminal case against her or anyone else. She chose to participate on her own, in hopes of getting positive consideration for her own illegal activities. She was involved in that lifestyle and was very familiar with the people involved and the inherent dangers that surrounded it. It is too bad that she was killed, but she fully knew the risks involved. To think otherwise is naive at best.
            The comments made herein are those solely of author and in no way reflect the opinions of any other person, agency or other entity.

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            • #7
              She didn't do anything she hadn't done plenty of times before. It just went badly that time. It could just as well have ended the same way every time previous time she scored.
              Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. - Ronald Reagan

              I don't think It'll happen in the US because we don't trust our government. We are a country of skeptics, raised by skeptics, founded by skeptics. - Amaroq


              • #8
                Informants should be exactly that -- persons who provide information. They should not be put in a position to generate new information by being set up to be the primary operator in a sting operation at high risk to themselves. There are guys who've been "michelined" (taped up and placed in a stack of tires and having gasoline poured on them and being set on fire) for nothing more than having been observed talking to the police. It's fine to get them to talk to you in the interview room. Give them some lenity and enough penalty so no-one is apt to be convinced they talked and let them go. Don't leverage their vulnerability into making them attempt feats that are probably too dangerous even for the most experienced UC guys.


                • #9
                  Actually, drug buys are far safer for informants than they are for undercover officers. The dealers know and (more or less) trust the informants, because they are established doper scum. A UC can take days, weeks or months before he is in good enough to make a buy. It's a rare thing when an informant is harmed on an operation. The doper in the article didn't follow directions - she went off with the dealers to another location, and she burned herself by telling her boyfriend. He's probably a doper as well, and she was nothing serious to him, and he knew the dealers - you do the math.

                  A doper's uncorroborated word in an interview room is useless when it comes to obtaining a search warrant. A couple buys is gold.
                  Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. - Ronald Reagan

                  I don't think It'll happen in the US because we don't trust our government. We are a country of skeptics, raised by skeptics, founded by skeptics. - Amaroq


                  • #10
                    Yeah, controlled buys are frequent in Chicago, too. But the suggestion is that the person was changing the routine -- buying a larger quantity, buying MDMA instead of cannabis, etc.. Saying go ahead and do as you usually do and tell us about it later is different from saying go in and get some X weight when you're so far just a PU weed gal.


                    • #11
                      It doesn't sound like she got killed doing what they sent her to do, and told her to do. It sounds like she got killed by doing what they told her not to do and trying to outsmart the detectives handling her.

                      That mode of operation is going to be dangerous for anyone going undercover, informant or agent, not too mention dangerous for the people having to cover them.

                      Once an informant strays the slightest bit from what I tell them to do, their time as an informant is over. But, the main problem with informants (or any other defendant cooperators), is that if they were that smart, they wouldn't be in the position of having to work for the police in the first place. And, I never cease to be amazed at the ones who haven't figured that out, and stlll think they are smart enough to scam you.

                      But, it is a fact of life that it takes a long time to put an undercover agent in a position of trust that an informant has right away. While it may be worth it to take enough time to get an undercover agent in for a large, higher level organization, it's just not really practical to spend that much time on low level or mid-level dealers.

                      But, what this girl did isn't even in the top 100 of strange, unexplicable things, that I have seen informants do (he weirdest being an informant on a controlled delivery who delivered the meth, told the dealers that he was informing and that he knew where the agents were outside and that they could go kill them all, and then shot himself in the head when no one else thought that was a good idea).


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