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Irv Hoffman

Protect police informants

I am the father of Rachel Hoffman, a 23-year-old Countryside High and Florida State University graduate who was killed last May in a botched undercover police investigation in Tallahassee. I have suffered a great deal over the past year — more than most people will ever have to endure. I am thankful that throughout the process, I have had wonderful supporters such as Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, and Rep. Peter Nehr, R-Tarpon Springs, to fight on Rachel's behalf to pass Rachel's Law — a proposal to prevent tragedies like this from happening again.

Anyone who had the opportunity to know my beautiful daughter loved her for her spirit and caring nature. She had so many friends and so many people whose lives she touched in her short time with us, and I know she is near us now, out of sight, but never out of mind.

The death of our daughter was tragic and needless. There are thousands of college students like Rachel in Florida and, despite the best efforts of their parents, many will experiment with drugs or alcohol. While I always did the walk and talk with Rachel about drug use, she still made that mistake and was paying the consequences for her actions. But her punishment should never have cost her life.

The goal that Rachel's mother, Margie Weiss, and I have is to add three essential provisions that are missing from an amended and weakened version of the legislation called Rachel's Law. The purpose of these three provisions is to instill fairness and safety into a system that currently operates with no rules, so that confidential informants, particularly those who go undercover, as my daughter did, don't become victims. If the amendments that we're asking had been in place, Rachel would still be alive. The three provisions are:

• Anyone who has offered to serve law enforcement should have the right to be advised by legal counsel before agreeing to serve as a confidential informant. Rachel was not given that opportunity.

• Anyone who is in a substance abuse treatment should never be used in undercover activities while they are in treatment. Speaking as a mental health professional, it is contradictory to rehabilitate a person while they are interacting with drugs.

• Anyone who is a nonviolent person should never be involved in an undercover operation with a known violent offender, especially if a weapon is present. In Rachel's case, she was sent by herself to meet with two criminals, neither of whom she knew. One had a long history of violence, and the other was suspected by police of stealing a gun out of someone's car two days before Rachel was murdered. Rachel was the most loving person I ever new; I never saw her as violent.

Adding these three provisions to the legislation is a step toward ensuring the safety of future confidential informants, who might be unaware of the dangers of serving as a criminal informant. Human life is more important than completing a deal.

Rachel's mother and I are asking lawmakers to take these three steps to ensure that tragedies like this never happen again. We need change to make sure there are checks and balances in a system that has been in the shadows and offers little hope for anyone trying to turn their life around.

Please hear our voice. Our Rachel is gone, but there are thousands of other Rachels out there.

Irv Hoffman is the father of Rachel Hoffman, a 23-year-old FSU graduate who was killed during a police undercover investigation.

Protect police informants 04/10/09 [Last modified: Friday, April 10, 2009 1:00am]
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