Tuesday, December 13, 2005

We All Like A Snitch

There is a really interesting article on Slate about the effects of turning criminals into police informants. The author comes down harshly on this policy, and although many of the points make sense, there appears to be a lack of objectivity.

It is true that criminals have the incentive to say whatever it takes to have their punishment reduced, which includes lying to police. And it is frightening to find out that so many wrongful death penalty convictions (46%) come from misinformation from snitches. But I think the author is mistaken in claiming that snitching hurts social structures in high-crime neighborhoods any more than the crimes that are already present. Suggesting that moving away from using snitches will somehow strengthen the social network in high-crime areas seems like a very dubious argument.

I do agree that there does not appear to be a lot of transparency over this policy. It is likely that law enforcement might be overusing informants, and I agree with the call for better policies and more open information. But I do not think the practice should be ended. We need to realize that human intelligence is necessary in law enforcement (and for international security). That often means finding snitches that are willing to sell information on their own people. And even though informants are not always reliable, their services are still extremely valuable.