SGA’s official statement on confidential informant program causes heated debate

By Catherine Ferris

A week after the Boston Globe ran a story on the death of a University of Massachusetts student and confidential informant, the Student Government Association met to discuss an official statement and amendments to pass.

The discussion, which took place Monday night during the SGA’s weekly meeting, came after Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy suspended the UMass Police Department’s student confidential informant program until a full review can be completed.

SGA Attorney General Ritika Kumar explained what the CI program is.

According to Kumar, the program began in 2009 and mainly targeted marijuana. In Kumar’s time as Attorney General, she has never dealt with a heroin case and noted that Student Legal Services said those situations are scarce.

She went on to say the program has a number of problems and “has so many avenues that can be abused and manipulated to put students in danger.”

“When you have to make a decision about your future under that pressure, I see that as coercion,” Kumar said. “My official opinion as Attorney General is to have this program abolished.”

A statement, sponsored by Chairwoman Jennifer Raichel, was also handed out to those in attendance for consideration.

“The basis of these amendments came from additional information from Attorney General Kumar,” Raichel said. “I came to this conclusion that because of this information, no matter what changes can be made, this is not a safe program on this campus.”

The statement called for the discontinuation of the program and led to a lengthy debate.

The statement read: “Be it resolved that in the opinion of the SGA there is no possible significant change that would make the confidential informant program in use by UMPD safe for all students and should therefore be permanently discontinued.”

A number of members argued over the wording and overall message of the statement, which will eventually be delivered.

Senator Emily O’Neil said, “The problem is that it caused direct harm to students. There are undercover cops at this school. There is no need to place unnecessary harm on students.”

Several other senators voiced similar sentiments, saying that because there are undercover police officers at the University, students should not be included in drug investigations.

The opposing side took the opportunity to note that undercover police officers are not permitted inside of dorms on campus, while CIs have such access.

Secretary of University Policy Stefan Herlitz said he did not feel comfortable with the wording of the debated segment and wanted to find more information about this issue before coming up with a permanent solution.

Senator Adam Ladd also noted that at the time of his death, the student, Eric Sinacori, was a witness as opposed to a CI, and had not been a CI for some time.

Eric Bosco, a UMass senior and the reporter who wrote the initial Globe article, was in attendance at the meeting and voiced his opinion of the CI program, which he said he found “pointless.”

Raichel continued and said, “This specific program on this campus does not function well. It does not do what it sets out to do.”

Brophy followed, saying, “A program that exploits the weaknesses of a student has no use.”

Senators also discussed the suspension as being a good thing as well as an opportunity to fix the flaws of the CI program.

The two sides continued to go back and forth before calling a vote for the amendment to be passed. With 26 in favor, 13 in opposition and two abstaining, the amendment passed.

But this was not the end of the debate.

Senator Leo Sheehan requested to go over a re-wording of the amendment, as he wanted it to say that if the program has no way of being fixed, it should then be abolished.

Another vote was taken, which ended in a tie, meaning Speaker of the Senate Sionan Barrett would have to vote in order to reach a conclusion.

She ultimately voted against the re-wording of the amendment.

The debate was left open-ended, and it will be tabled until next Tuesday.

Catherine Ferris can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Ca_Ferris2.