The use of confidential informants by New Jersey police leads to violations of civilians’ rights and botched investigations thanks to inconsistent polices and insufficient oversight, according to a study by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project.
The report (PDF) found that some departments throughout New Jersey failed to put agreements in writing, circumvented search warrant requirements, used juveniles improperly, and insufficiently checked the reliability of information given by confidential informants, who can be motivated by financial incentives or fear of prosecution to fabricate information.
The report, released Monday, is based on information gathered from law enforcement and citizens.
In addition, the lack of a clear single state policy regulating the use of informants by law enforcement “has led to inconsistent and ethically questionable practices, and in some instances downright corruption and serious criminality,” the report found. “Whether intentional or inadvertent, the unregulated and unsupervised use of informants causes harms that must be addressed through training and enforcement.”
Many police departments reported that no policies existed concerning the use of informants, while other departments believed the mandatory protocols issued by the New Jersey Attorney General were merely advisory.
“Because the practice of using informants in criminal investigations has such a long history with support from state laws and judicial decisions, we were surprised to find that the policy governing informant use in the state is so disorganized,” said Professor Delores Jones-Brown, co-author of the report and a former Monmouth County Assistant Prosecutor. “Though our sample size was small, it was disturbing to find that half of the officers surveyed were unclear about the requirements for the proper use of informants.”
The report called on New Jersey to adopt a confidential informant system that “does not prey on the poor, the weak, or communities of color that can also adequately protect the interests of civilians who have been accused of crimes.”
A similar report released by the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi in March found that “the widespread recruitment of community members as informants, coupled with aggressive police tactics and excessive sentencing policies, results in a ‘police state’ atmosphere that should not be tolerated anywhere in America.”