NYPD changes informant system
By Rocco Parascandola
August 16, 2004, 10:08 PM EDT
The Police Department is changing the way it handles confidential informants, restructuring the entire system to better protect them from retribution and to cut down on the use of those proven to be unreliable, Newsday has learned.
The overhaul comes on the heels of several embarrassing incidents for police, most recently an order by a federal judge to disclose any internal documents that explain how it protects confidential informants.
According to an internal document obtained by Newsday, the new Confidential Informant Review Committee will be run under the authority of the Intelligence Division, with information "maintained under strict and secure conditions."
The committee is charged with cutting down on the use of temporary informants, except in an emergency -- a move designed to allow supervisors to conduct more thorough investigations before conducting raids -- and using "facial recognition software" to prevent duplicate registration of unreliable informants.
Sgt. Kevin Hayes, a Police Department spokesman, said the department had no comment on the issue.
The department's use of CIs, as police call them, came under renewed scrutiny in May 2003 when Alberta Spruill, a 57-year-old grandmother and city worker, died of a heart attack when police stormed her Harlem apartment and detonated a flash grenade after getting a bad tip about drug deals there.
The informant had at least a dozen arrests and became a collaborater after he was arrested on drug and trespassing charges five months earlier, the NYPD later said.
The city settled with Spruill's family for $1.6 million, and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly promised to take steps to change the way police screen informants.
This February, the city agreed to pay $100,000 to a Bronx family that had sued police, accusing the department of terrorizing them during a 1993 narcotics raid in which no drugs were found. A detective later acknowledged in a deposition that he could not remember the name of the informant whose tip led to the raid.
Also in February, Anthony Velez, 20, was shot dead in Brownsville 30 minutes after cops, acting on his tip, found crack and a gun in an apartment. Velez was reportedly in the apartment at the time but was not arrested.
Internal Affairs investigators are trying to determine if Velez was killed in retribution for being an informant and if police had exposed him as their tipster.
At the time of his death, Velez was not a registered informant, a violation that could lead to disciplinary action under the new guidelines.
Meanwhile, in a separate case, a federal judge in March told the NYPD it must disclose any documents explaining its policy regarding protecting informants.
The order was made in connection with a lawsuit by a man who, in a $50-million suit against the city, claims the department failed to protect him after he agreed to become a snitch following a 2001 drug bust in Bayside.
That man, Robert Matican, now 40, has said that after the dealer made bail, he slashed Matican in the face with a box cutter and accused him on giving him up to police.