The University of Massachusetts Amherst’s use of confidential informants was brought to light in mid-January after the college’s chancellor, Kumble Subbaswamy, announced its conclusion, raising questions at colleges across the United States, including Plattsburgh State, about similar programs.
The program was suspended in September 2014 after The Boston Globe revealed that one of the student informants had died from a heroin overdose.
The procedure for an informant system is simple: To avoid severe drug charges or disciplinary action, an informant (typically a student) agrees to help law enforcement track down other offenders.
Because of the confidentiality of such programs, the Amherst student was not given proper care and attention, thus resulting in his death.
PSUC Vice President of Student Affairs Bryan Hartman said the college does not have any formal student informant system, though student informants may be used by outside police agencies.
Assistant Chief of PSUC University Police Jerry Lottie confirmed that the force does not typically enlist students to become informants.
“Every SUNY campus is within its own jurisdiction,” Lottie said. “I can’t speak to what every campus decides to do.”
Hartman said Plattsburgh city law enforcement could be using students as informants more regularly than the college, typically those who live off campus, as they usually run a larger risk of possessing, using and/or distributing illegal substances, whereas on-campus students are more closely monitored within dorm buildings.
“I am not in a place to question this, especially if it is an effective tool,” Hartman said.
In terms of the Amherst student who died, as some consider, within an unjust system, Hartman said he does not necessarily believe it is the best method to use, particularly because the college’s administration is always supposed to be considering its students’ best interests and safety.
“I would hope a person’s well-being is being put over an investigation. It’s just not worth it.”
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