Senate Giving Rachel's Law Some Teeth

Mar 23, 2015

It’s been seven years since drug dealers murdered  23-year-old Rachel Hoffman while she worked undercover for the Tallahassee Police Department -- and her father says not enough has changed.  

Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, wants to strengthen Rachel's Law.
Credit Florida Senate

When the job is luring criminals into a police trap, workplace safety is an issue. But when Rachel Hoffman wore a wire for TPD in 2008, her biggest concern was not going to prison. 

Now her father Irv Hoffman thinks it’s time the Legislature put some teeth into the law they passed in 2009.

“Well, I think all of the thousands of Rachels out there will be helped by this. We need to make police more accountable.”

A bill by Senator Charlie Dean, a Republican from Inverness, might have saved Rachel’s life if it were in place in 2008. It bars police from recruiting confidential informants for drug stings if they are in treatment or diversion programs. Rachel was in drug court when she was recruited.

“If you had an alcoholic, you wouldn’t send him into a bar to get help, right? So why would you send someone with a drug addiction off to get more drugs? It just doesn’t make sense.”

The bill also bans minors from working undercover, unless they have their parents consent. And it forces police to tell a potential undercover operative he or she has the right to consult with an attorney. Informants don’t know if going under cover is worth it, says Hoffman family attorney Lance Block.

“In fact, when you talk to most defense lawyers, they don’t even want their clients doing this because there just isn’t enough of a benefit to their clients.”

Rachel’s Law was substantially watered down before Governor Charlie Crist signed it. Law enforcement is hammering out compromises this year, too, says Florida Sheriffs Association spokeswoman Nanette Schimpf.

“I would not categorize it as supporting or opposing. It’s more a work in progress.”

One of the early sticking points, Schimpf says, is how much information police agencies would have to report to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for a central database. Right now, it’s impossible to gauge how dangerous or how effective the work is, Block says.

“How many people are serving as confidential informants in the state? How young are they? How many are being killed? How many are being hurt? None of the information’s available.”

Bill sponsors also wanted to prohibit campus police departments from recruiting students for undercover drug stings. That would make Florida State University less safe, says FSU Police Chief David Perry.

“Campus police departments, when they are properly trained and they have policies and procedures in place, are appropriate agencies to handle students who chose to be confidential informants.”

The bill also encourages law enforcement to