Rachel's Law To Protect Police Informants Nears Compromise

A last-minute deal with the state's most powerful law-enforcement agencies may rescue a bill known as "Rachel's Law" that sought to tighten oversight for the use of confidential informants.

Law-enforcement groups had targeted it for defeat, complaining that its requirement for written contracts, approval by defense attorneys and consultation with prosecutors and probation officers would have put informants at greater risk, scaring away their most valuable law-enforcement tool.

"Why create more policies and restrictions when we already have them," said Santa Rosa Sheriff Wendell Hall. "This will end confidential informants."

"This would end law enforcement," warned Leon County Sheriff Larry Campbell.

The measure (SB 604) by Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, is named after 23-year-old Rachel Hoffman, a recent Florida State University graduate who was killed last year working as an informant in an undercover drug sting for the Tallahassee Police Department.

Facing several drug charges, Hoffman wore a wire and was given $13,000 in cash to buy drugs and a gun from two suspected drug dealers on May 7. Her body was found in the woods in Taylor County 36 hours later.

Members of the Florida Police Chiefs Association and the Florida Sheriffs Association packed the meeting room when the Senate Criminal Justice Committee held a workshop on the measure.

Hoffman's father, Irv, was particularly upset that prosecutors did not know that Rachel was in a drug-treatment program when she was tapped as an informant, the family's attorney, Lance Block, told committee members.

Block called the sting operation, "horribly botched."

"The family wants me to make it very clear to you that the bill is not intended to eradicate the use of confidential informants," Block said. "However, they do feel strongly that these minimum standards do need to be enacted."

The police groups, working with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, offered a compromise measure that requires agencies to adopt minimal guidelines by the end of the year. They also would be required to report their progress to the Legislature.

Block said the Hoffman family continues to have concerns, but promised to continue working on a compromise.