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Friday, January 29, 2010

Police raids and imaginary informants

Dennis Fitzgerald is a former DEA agent and Miami police narcotics supervisor. He has written an article entitled "Wrong-Door Raids, Phantom Informants, and the Controlled Buy," in which he not only describes problems with drug informant use, but also some best practices that can counter them. For example, he points out that "the creation of 'phantom informants' is a practice that has plagued police departments for decades," and recommends that police agencies institute better documentation requirements to counter this problem. More generally, he discusses the problem of wrong-door raids and the police practices that generate them. From the article:
During the last 20 years, police have killed at least 40 innocent people while conducting wrong-door raids. According to a study by the Cato Institute, "Because of shoddy police work, over-reliance on informants, and other problems, each year hundreds of raids are conducted on the wrong addresses, bringing unnecessary terror and frightening confrontation to people never suspected of a crime."
Here's a link to the Cato Institute raid map. Fitzgerald goes on to identify the problems that lead to such raids, including:
1. Willful disregard for police standard operating procedures governing the use of informants and conducting controlled buys
2. Use of "cookie cutter" affidavits containing boilerplate language from a computer program
3. Blatant lies in search warrant affidavits
4. Creation of phantom informants
5. Supplying drug exhibits "purchased" by a phantom informant
6. Planting drugs in homes when no drugs are discovered during a search.
Fitzgerald is also the author of the book "Informants and Undercover Investigations: A Practical Guide to Law, Policy and Procedure" (CRC Press, 2007).