Topic: Society

An Unethical Police Tactic that Kills Kids
(11/16/2005)

From a Scoreboard reader in Florida comes a disturbing report of a law enforcement tactic that is both profoundly unethical and little publicized. This website will hardly make a dent in either of those conditions, but perhaps the Scoreboard’s commentary can be small catalyst for change. The tactic involves the recruitment of youths to be police informants for drug enforcement. The unethical principles involved: abuse of power, exploiting human lives, and using improper means to achieve legitimate ends.

Billy, the reader’s teenaged son, was apprehended for possessing a small amount of pot by the Davie, Florida police department. His father reports that Billy was threatened and pressured to agree to serve as a police informant. He didn’t tell his parents about either his arrest or the deal with the police, and neither did law enforcement officials. Billy’s parents learned about it five weeks later, after drug dealers had discovered Billy’s relationship with the police and murdered him.

The police’s conduct blatantly disregarded Billy’s welfare and safety. They used predictably effective intimidation methods against a frightened youth, and almost certainly didn’t tell him enough about the dangerous nature of their proposition for his consent to it to be considered informed. Nor was his consent truly voluntary. Billy had no lawyer to advise him, nor his parents. Indeed, the promise to avoid telling his parents about the arrest was undoubtedly part of police offer’s appeal. He was pressured and placed under duress, told exaggerated tales of how a drug conviction would destroy his future, and then given an “easy” way to wipe the slate clean. Did the police know they were placing a child in danger of his life? Of course. Would they have wanted the police to inform them if their own child had been in Billy’s position? Yes. Would they have allowed their own child to be an amateur undercover agent in order to catch drug dealers?

Almost certainly not! But the police didn’t care. What they cared about was what police always care about: catching the bad guys. And that’s their job. But risking the lives of naïve and frightened kids can’t be one of their tools. It is wrong; it is callous. It’s unethical.

It’s so unethical that the practice should be illegal. Billy’s father tells the Scoreboard that he’s trying to get the Florida legislature interested in passing a “Billy’s Law” that would require parental consent before the police could drop drug charges against a minor in exchange for undercover work. And other states shouldn’t wait for the deaths of its teens to make sure this tactic is prohibited. There are other ways to catch drug dealers without scaring kids into being drug informants.

Are you aware of this tactic being used in your community? Do you know for a fact that it isn’t being used? As the father of a soon to be teenaged boy, I’m doing some research where I live. Meanwhile, let’s try to end this unethical practice by taking it out of the shadows and killing it in the legislature.

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