This is the time of year parents start worrying about back-to-school things. For those parents with college-aged kids who will soon go off to live by themselves, here's an extra bit of preparation to think about.
You may not realize it, but police departments across the country, especially those near colleges and universities, often "flip" students who are caught with marijuana — even a tiny amount — and recruit them for the ranks of confidential informant.
At some universities there is a wide circle of these student tipsters who have promised to turn in other campus drug users in exchange for leniency in their own narcotics case.
Here's how it works: Narcotics officers, working on information from one of these CIs, approach particular students and ask to search their rooms, and when they find evidence of drug use they haul the students to the stationhouse. The students fail to notice that the officer hasn't actually placed them under arrest — if they were they would have been read their rights. These scared kids don't realize that the threat of a decades-long prison term is just a tactic to get them to talk.
As they sit in a bleak interrogation room, being questioned by a stern-looking officer and worrying about what Mom or Dad will say if they find out, these first-timers are and desperate to grasp at any solution to their dilemma.
Then, the offer is presented: Wear a wire and turn in other students who are willing to sell you drugs. They cannot tell anyone they are part of the CI squad, and they are often made to sign a document promising to turn in as many as 10 other students.
Now, consider the other side. Police officers working these details will tell you this is a bona fide tool in the ongoing war on drugs. Who better, they say, to make a monitored buy from a drug-dealing student than another student? If asked whether all this drama is overkill for just a small amount of marijuana an officer would likely say that the law is the law. Marijuana is legal in only four states and the District of Columbia, and it is likely not legal on your child's college campus.
But, here's the rub. While police department drug-bust rates are increasing and they are qualifying for more federal funds, these kids sometimes die on the job.
It happened in 2008 to a Florida State University graduate named Rachel Hoffman. She had been caught with drugs — twice. The second time Hoffman was in possession of 5 ounces of pot and Ecstasy and Valium pills. She agreed to CI recruitment to avoid prison time.
Rachel agreed to wear a wire and carry $13,000 in cash to buy 1,500 ecstasy pills, Crack cocaine and a gun from two known drug dealers. The agreed-upon location was a public park. Some 20 officers, including one in a Drug Enforcement Administration plane overhead, were on hand to protect her. When the location was changed at the last minute officers lost contact with Hoffman. Her body was found in a ditch 48 hours later.
In November 2013, a North Dakota State College of Science scholar named Andrew Sadek was confronted by members of a local police task force with evidence that he had made two small pot sales — worth $20 and $60 — to an undercover student. Sadek had never been in trouble before, but once he was in the interrogation room and threatened with "40 years in prison and a $40,000 fine," he agreed to flip. The interrogation video shows he was encouraged to find dealers who offered heavier drugs than marijuana. Six months later the 20-year-old's body was found in Red River. He was wearing a backpack full of rocks, a gunshot wound in his head.
Although those are extreme cases, these campus recruitments are widespread — at the University of Alabama, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Campus and others.
Last year it was reported that the narcotics squad near the University of Mississippi in Oxford recruits about 30 CIs each year, most of them students. One student named Greg told "60 Minutes" he was forced to inform after a friend left a package at his apartment for a second friend to pick up. Friend No. 2 was wearing a wire and captured Greg's voice on a recording. The package contained LSD.
To the families of college kids setting out to start their own lives, do them a favor: Cut out this column and send it with them.
To find out more about Diane Dimond visit her website at www.dianedimond.com. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.