The University of Massachusetts at Amherst has announced that it will end a program that recruited students as police informants after the practice contributed to the heroin overdose death of one of its students.
UMass’s flagship campus has its own 61-member police force, and through 2014 it relied extensively on a web of informants to combat drug use at the school. That practice will end immediately, the university announced Wednesday.
“After careful consideration, I’ve concluded that enlisting our students as confidential informants is fundamentally inconsistent with our core values,” chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said in a statement released by the school.
The program was originally suspended last September after an investigation by The Boston Globe found that one of the informants used by UMass police, known only as Logan, had died of a heroin overdose in 2013. The student had agreed to help campus police in order to avoid being hit with drug charges, but as a consequence he never received help for his addiction and his family remained unaware of the problem.
Logan’s parents have since sharply criticized the informant program, saying it prevented them from helping their son. His mother even speculated that Logan may have been poisoned by a drug dealer who knew about his informing activity.
A report commissioned by the university found that such problems were routine, if not always as fatal. Although university policy requires notifying parents of drug violations, campus police were allowed to pick their informants without telling the school, while the informants were expected to keep their activities a secret as well, even from family members. The report also said that the informant program frequently prevented students from getting help for addictions, and may even have been used by students to continue gaining access to drugs without having to fear further arrests.
Beyond the informants themselves, the report also said using student spies decreased trust, both among students and between the student body and the police department.
Ultimately, the report said that even though numerous drug arrests were made thanks to informants, the benefits were not worth it.
Subbaswamy also spoke with a retired district attorney, Gerry Leone, who was sharply critical of the informant policy, telling the Globe that a college recruiting informants was almost certainly “[in]consistent with the culture and environment a university wants to create.”
UMass is the second school in recent years to be burned by the use of informants. At the Air Force Academy in Colorado, a different scandal has erupted over the school’s use of informants to detect drug use and underage drinking. A former student at the Academy says he was expelled after superior disavowed actions, such as sneaking off-campus, that he was ordered to make.
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