AMHERST, Mass. – Following a three-month review by an 11-member campus working group, University of Massachusetts Amherst Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy has ended a UMass Police Department program that used students as confidential informants in drug investigations.
“After careful consideration, I’ve concluded that enlisting our students as confidential informants is fundamentally inconsistent with our core values,” Subbaswamy said. “Building trust, sharing common goals and demonstrating compassion in a safe and caring environment create the foundation for a vibrant educational community,” said Subbaswamy. “Through this process, we have determined that our Police Department and Student Affairs division can employ other approaches as it continues to combat illegal drug use, possession and sales and protect the members of our campus.”
In a 31-page report, the working group unanimously recommended ending the confidential informant program in its current form. Last September, the chancellor suspended the program after a Boston Globe report on the 2013 death of a UMass Amherst student from a drug overdose prompted questions about the campus police department’s use of confidential informants. No confidential informants were used last year by UMass Police prior to suspension of the program.
In making his decision, the chancellor was also advised by outside counsel, former Middlesex County District Attorney Gerard Leone, an attorney with Nixon Peabody LLP, a Boston law firm. As district attorney from 2007-13, Leone prosecuted drug cases and worked on a range of issues with the 26 colleges and universities in Middlesex County.
Leone said of his firm’s review, “Our strong present and ultimate conclusion and recommendation is that UMass Amherst discontinue the present practice of [UMPD] officers handling and using students as confidential informants …”
According to Leone, “Our conclusions and recommendations take into account a suggested more global approach to how UMass Amherst will handle student drug issues on its campus.” He notes that the chancellor’s decision to move the police department under student affairs and campus life, along with closer coordination between police and residence hall staff, improvements in residence hall security, added training and closer collaboration with other law enforcement agencies, will help the university address drug-related problems.
Chaired by Diane Curtis, director of pre-law advising and senior lecturer in political science, the review panel, which included undergraduate and graduate student representatives, two attorneys, university staff members and a representative of the UMass Police Department, identified the benefits and costs associated with the confidential informant program.
The report cites a number of concerns about the confidential information program, including potential adverse effects on the participants, missed opportunities to intervene with potentially addicted students, the need for prospective informants to consult with legal counsel, and lack of parental notification regarding drug use or confidential informant status. The working group also expressed reservations about a lack of communication between the police and other campus departments concerning confidential informants and noted that the program could increase students’ distrust of the police and make them more unwilling to cooperate with the department.
“It should be emphasized that if UMass Amherst were to end use of this particular law enforcement tool—the confidential informant program—it would not be ending the anti-drug activities of either UMPD or other offices on campus,” says the report. “UMPD would continue to enforce drug laws, and the Dean of Students Office and the BASICS program in particular would continue their own anti-drug efforts.”
The working group also determined that UMass Amherst students are sometimes recruited as confidential informants by other area police departments and recommends that the university should establish and engage in discussions with law enforcement agencies, preferably through the Northwestern District Attorney’s Anti-Crime Task Force, about “appropriate limitations on the use of UMass Amherst students as confidential informants.”