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From drug offenses to bike larceny — colleges use confidential informants in investigations

In the past five years, the UNC-Chapel Hill Police Department has used two confidential informants to assist with investigations. 

According to the UNC Police policy, a confidential informant is a person who, "through close or criminal association with others involved in criminal conduct, provides information or assistance of investigative significance, usually but not necessarily in an ongoing capacity and is usually motivated by personal gain of some nature." 

These gains can include leniency on existing charges. According to the UNC Police’s confidential informant agreement form, "no promises can be made about the ultimate disposition of any pending charges an informant may have, other than that the results of any assistance the informant provides will be reported to the District Attorney’s Office or the Dean of Students Office."

Under the policy, informants must let their control officer know where they are and how to contact them at all times and may be required to wear recording devices when interacting with suspects. 

They are also not to disclose their association with the Department Criminal Investigations Division unless directed by their control officer or in response to a subpoena by a court of law. 

In 2012, a confidential informant was used by UNC Police in a drug-related investigation. In 2015, one was used in a case of bike larceny. Both lead to an arrest, and neither confidential informants had any previous criminal history. The informant used in 2015 was paid.

No confidential informants have been used by UNC Police since 2015. 

Randy Young, UNC Public Safety Media Relations Manager, said in an email that in very rare circumstances a confidential informant may be used in the interest of furthering or resolving an investigation. 

“We do not use UNC students as confidential informants,” he said. 

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on 51 public colleges with policies on confidential informants — some of which use college students as informants. 

The majority of colleges that released their policies said they didn’t regularly use confidential informants — at least not in the past five years, but there were a few colleges that actively and regularly used informants on an annual basis, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. 

East Carolina University was the only other college in North Carolina that released its policy on confidential informants. 

Its policy defines confidential informants as "individuals who are cooperating with the department and who have been approved through the establishment procedures." 

Frank Baumgartner, a political science professor at UNC, said he doesn’t see a legal problem with using confidential informants. He said the tricky part is protecting informants from possible repercussions.

“I imagine drug cartels would not take lightly to someone wearing a wire and coming to one of the meetings,” he said. “So it’s a dangerous, tricky process to gather evidence about ongoing crime.”


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