Confidential informants face perils seeking to “work off” criminal charges in loosely regulated and often secretive arrangements with law enforcement. Police rely on informants in a wide range of cases, compensating them with money or leniency in their own cases yet often providing little or no training, the Associated Press reports. Law enforcement’s use of confidential informants is akin to a black market in which “deals are made under the table and often undocumented,” said Alexandra Natapoff, a Harvard law professor and expert on informants. Not only are informants treated as disposable pawns, she said, but qualified immunity has made it very difficult to sue the police when things go off the rails.
“As a matter of common sense and humanity, police should take obvious, straightforward precautions to protect their informants,” Natapoff said, “but there is no law that says they have to.” With few exceptions, states have been slow to track or regulate law enforcement’s use of informants, even in the wake of high-profile oversights. In 2009, Florida lawmakers adopted Rachel’s Law, the first comprehensive legislation in the country governing use of informants, after the fatal shooting of 23-year-old Rachel Hoffman in connection with an undercover drug sting for Tallahassee police. Among other things, the law requires police consider the “risk of physical harm” to the informant.