UMass student informant program suspended

One informant died of a heroin overdose

AMHERST, Mass. (WWLP) – UMass Police have used student informants in certain cases, but right now school officials are reviewing that program after one informant died of heroin overdose.

UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy has decided to suspend the use of student informants on campus while the review is being conducted.

The student that overdosed, whose name is not being released, became an informant after he was caught selling LSD. He was told the university would not file charges or tell his parents if he gave police information about other drug dealers on campus.

At that time, the student denied having drug problems and refused treatment. Then last October, that student was found dead in his off-campus apartment after overdosing on heroin.

22News asked current students about the student informant programs. UMass freshman Michael Manley said, “I feel like that’s not a good idea to use students as informants because we are at most 22, 23. I don’t think we can make our own decisions about being informants to police.”

Some students admit there is a drug problem on campus, but they don’t think the informant program is the right way to solve the problem. “Of course it is. We are in college, a lot of freedom, and sometimes people can’t make good choices for themselves. It happens,” said UMass sophomore Zach Litchman.

In a letter to UMass students, Chancellor Subbaswamy said the school will consider ending the informant program or revising it to include mandatory substance abuse treatment and parental notification.

Students suggested education programs may be more effective than using informants in reducing drug problems.

Below is a statement on use of Student Confidential Informants from UMass Amherst:

The death of a UMass Amherst student following a drug overdose last year, as reported in The Boston Globe, was a terrible loss for his family, friends and the UMass Amherst community.

Heroin addiction is an insidious and devastating affliction affecting many communities, including college campuses. At UMass Amherst, we must do all in our power to educate students and protect our community from the dangers of drug abuse. In preparation for a scheduled police accreditation review, UMass Police and Student Affairs officials, with input from students, will study whether the university’s current confidential informant policy should be revised to require that informants in a drug case also receive a mandatory referral to an addiction specialist.

The UMass Police use student confidential informants on occasion to detect, investigate and prosecute violators of state and federal law. It is one of an array of tools, including use of undercover officers, deployed to conduct investigations and deter crime, especially major drug cases. To ensure the safety of informants, the university’s policy follows national accreditation standards that place an “emphasis on security and rigid control of access.” However, as part of a broad assessment of the policy, the university will also review whether parents should be notified when a student becomes a confidential informant. The assessment will include consultation with the university’s general counsel.

Meanwhile, the university learned for the first time in the Globe story on Sunday that the person who allegedly sold heroin to the deceased student is reportedly a UMass Amherst student. The student who suffered an overdose, identified as Logan, died in an off-campus apartment in Amherst, where Amherst Police have jurisdiction. The Amherst Police conducted the follow-up investigation, and the university received no information indicating that the dealer, whom the Globe did not identify, was a UMass student. UMass Police today requested an update on the investigation from Amherst Police to determine the accuracy of the report, so it can take prompt and appropriate action as needed.

Currently there are no active student confidential informants working with the UMass Police. The decision to use a confidential informant is carefully considered and only undertaken when it is believed that such an informant can lead to the apprehension of a major dealer in a drug case who poses a significant threat to students. The use of confidential informants is especially helpful in combating drug use and trafficking in residence halls. The growing use of heroin in western Massachusetts and elsewhere is a major concern of university officials, and police believe having this tool available is important to protect public safety.

The university’s current confidential informant’s policy follows the standard set by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA). The UMass Police is one of only seven police agencies in Massachusetts to earn CALEA’s comprehensive law enforcement accreditation, and its re-accreditation review will be conducted in the upcoming year. The informant policy includes a requirement that informants have stated a willingness to cooperate and provide information. They are made fully aware of their role, and there are strict procedures in place to ensure their safety and protect their identity.

In the case reported by the Boston Globe, UMass Amherst reached out to the student on two occasions to offer resources and assistance, keeping in mind the university’s legal obligation to respect the privacy of students who are legally adults. However, the student decided not to seek assistance. He successfully concealed his use of heroin from a wide variety of people. The assessment will help determine whether the confidential informant program can operate successfully with a mandatory referral to an addiction specialist, or notification to a parent, providing an intervention for a student in need while maintaining a program that deters distribution of illegal, lethal drugs.

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