NewsBriefs BUTTONS

Police Rewarding Youth to Inform on Other Students


May-June 1998

Across the nation, school districts and police are rewarding youths who inform on other students with cash and prizes (Mark Fritz, "`Rewards' Becoming the 4th `R,'" Los Angeles Times, May 3, 1998).

In Portsmouth, New Hampshire, police and high school officials have approved a program to reward student informants with cash ranging from $10 to $100 to combat drug use, vandalism and theft. A 12-member student committee will be charged with setting the reward amounts. Similar programs exist in Fresno, CA, Boulder, CO, Amarillo, TX, Baton Rouge, LA, and Albuquerque, NM. "What schools want is a safe and orderly environment, and they're looking for techniques to attain that," said Gary Marx, senior assistant executive director to the American Association of School Administrators.

Charlotte, North Carolina, expanded its program last year to include all high schools and some middle schools -- 53 campuses in all. Charlotte schools have posters and stickers with a pair of eyes, some of them with the warning "Who's watching?" followed by a hotline number. Students call the hotline, give a tip and get a code number. If the information pans out, the student can call back with the code number and arrange to meet with an officer to receive the money. The program is so extensive that authorities have difficulty raising enough money to pay informants, said Charlotte police investigator David Wilson.

Student informants are also rewarded with T-shirts, gift certificates, pizzas, autographed baseballs, and other prizes, according to University of Arkansas criminologist Mary Parker. The logical extension, she said, will be for schools to implement the programs in increasingly lower grades. University of Maryland criminologist Denise Gottfredson said such programs create the wrong atmosphere in schools. "The kind of school environment that is conducive to positive school behavior is one in which students feel they belong and trust one another," said Gottfredson.

"You may have some beneficial effect, but is it worth creating the fear and mistrust and other possible negative effects that you introduce into that environment?' asked Dennis Rosenbaum, head of the Criminal Justice Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "If we continue in that direction, then we will have a society that consists of gates and cameras and anonymous reporting."

[Police use of youth informants is problematic in other ways. A juvenile informant in Los Angeles was killed when the investigation's targets learned of his informing. A drug-buying juvenile informant died of an overdose from the heroin purchased at police direction (James Blair, "Ethics of Using Juvenile Informants," Christian Science Monitor, April 14, 1998). -- EES]

Portsmouth Police Department - 3 Junkins Ave., Portsmouth, NH 03801, Tel: (603) 427-1500, Fax: (603) 427-1508.

Charlotte Police Department - 601 East Trade St., Charlotte, NC 28202, Tel: (704) 336-2373, Fax: (704) 336-6681.

Professor May Parker - Department of Criminal Justice, University of Arkansas, 2801 South University, Little Rock, AR 72204, Tel: (501) 569-8589, Fax: (501) 569-3075, E-mail: <>.

Denise Gottfredson - Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Maryland, 2220 LeFrank Hall, College Park, MD 20742-8235, E-mail: <>.

Dennis P. Rosenbaum - Department of Criminal Justice (MC 141), University of Illinois, 1007 W. Harrison St., Chicago, IL 60607-7140, Tel: (312) 996-5262, Fax: (312) 996-5755, E-mail: <>.