Latest Drug War News

GoodShop: You Shop...We Give!

Shop online at and a percentage of each purchase will be donated to our cause! More than 600 top stores are participating!

The Internet Our Website

Global and National Events Calendar

Bottoms Up: Guide to Grassroots Activism

Prisons and Poisons

November Coalition Projects

Get on the Soapbox! with Soap for Change

November Coalition: We Have Issues!

November Coalition Local Scenes

November Coalition Multimedia Archive

The Razor Wire
Bring Back Federal Parole!
November Coalition: Our House

Stories from Behind The WALL

November Coalition: Nora's Blog

April 28, 2009 -- Philadelphia Inquirer (PA)

Police Department's Reliance On Informants Has Risks

By Andrew Maykuth and Joseph A. Slobodzian, Inquirer Staff Writers

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

The Philadelphia Police Department is heavily dependent upon informants to build cases against drug dealers, a reliance whose risks are painfully apparent as a probe expands into the conduct of its undercover narcotics unit.

Officer Jeffrey Cujdik, whose soured relationship with a confidential informant triggered a federal-local investigation into the Narcotics Field Unit, employed informants to justify 95 percent of his drug searches in the last three years, records show.

An Inquirer analysis of 186 search warrants that Cujdik was granted since 2006 shows that the officer cited confidential informants in nearly all his cases. None listed an undercover drug buy that he personally made, and only one listed a buy by another officer.

Rather, confidential informants -- often drug dealers themselves who work for cash or leniency -- did most of the transactions.

Philadelphia's practices are similar to those of other big-city forces, according to several studies.

Deputy Police Commissioner William C. Blackburn, who oversees the Narcotics Unit as the head of major operations, said there was a reason for the Philadelphia antidrug force's "heavy reliance" on informants.

"Informants give us an opportunity to get into an area where an undercover police officer wouldn't be able to go," he said in an interview last month.

Cujdik's relationship with one informant has shown the weakness of the system.

Investigators began to pursue Cujdik (pronounced CHUH-dik) last year after his most productive informant, Ventura Martinez, alleged that the officer had repeatedly fabricated evidence to obtain warrants. In January, Cujdik was put on desk duty and ordered to turn in his service weapon.

According to sources, FBI and Internal Affairs investigators are now looking at Cujdik's work with at least four informants, and suspicion has spread to other members of his squad. Philadelphia's public defender has sought to overturn 53 convictions allegedly based on tainted searches.

According to Cujdik's affidavits, the officer cited Martinez -- code-named "Confidential Informant 103" -- in 43 percent of his 186 search warrants in the last three years. Martinez provided tips to Cujdik and made controlled drug buys from the dealers he informed on. But Cujdik also trusted Martinez sufficiently that he asked him to make drug buys from dealers he had never met.

Often described as a "necessary evil" in narcotics trajectories, informants provide investigators with access and security. They allow undercover officers to avoid dangerous situations with suspected drug dealers. And a productive informant can generate far more cases than officers would if they had to infiltrate the drug world themselves.

For all the work they do, informants don't cost much.

Blackburn said the Philadelphia force maintained about 200 active informants, who were paid a total of $125,000 last year -- slightly more than Cujdik's overtime-enhanced salary of $111,800.

Civil libertarians and defense attorneys say informants can encourage police to take shortcuts. Even with safeguards, there is little external oversight to detect misconduct. Judges rarely question whether the informants actually did what the officers say they did.

Even if Martinez is lying -- Cujdik's defenders say the informant is making it all up -- the doubt he has cast is likely to take a substantial toll. About 500 cases were thrown out after a 1995 evidence-faking scandal engulfed the 39th District, and the city paid more than $4 million to settle lawsuits.

A bigger casualty may be faith in the force at a time when Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey has made public trust a cornerstone of his crime-fighting effort.

"The investigation is probably going to grow in scope," Ramsey said. "We will let the chips fall where they may."

Also visit our "Informants: Resources for a Snitch Culture" section.

For the latest drug war news, visit our friends and allies below

We are careful not to duplicate the efforts of other organizations, and as a grassroots coalition of prisoners and social reformers, our resources (time and money) are limited. The vast expertise and scope of the various drug reform organizations will enable you to stay informed on the ever-changing, many-faceted aspects of the movement. Our colleagues in reform also give the latest drug war news. Please check their websites often.

The Drug Policy Alliance
Drug Reform Coordination Network
Drug Sense and The Media Awareness Project

Working to end drug war injustice

Meet the People Behind The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines

Questions or problems? Contact