On the 16th of September 2018 I spoke to CBC crime reporter Dan TAEKEMA about the underworld murder of Albert IAVARONE in the city of Hamilton. My professional opinion as an organized crime expert is contained in the CBC news link written by Dan TAEKEMA below:
Stephen G. Metelsky, M.A. is a freelance crime writer/journalist, criminologist, organized crime expert (CBC, Global News, AM 680, 980 News & 900 CHML) & college professor, with over 20 years experience as a police (ret.) sergeant. Stephen is a contributing columnist with Blue Line magazine and has covered true crime stories for various newspapers affiliated with Metroland Media Group & Postmedia Network Inc.
For more information, visit Stephen G. Metelsky on:
An exclusive interview with agent Paul DERRY & police handler Shane HALLIDAY
By: Stephen G. Metelsky
“I had the gun. I drove to the murder. I threw away the gun. I knew where it was buried. I knew where all the evidence was,” says Paul Derry, upon the realization he had been directly involved in an underworld contract – a contract to murder at the behest of the Hells Angels motorcycle club.
It was October 3rd, 2000, in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. The gun in question had just been used to murder Sean Simmons, gunned down right in the lobby of his building on Trinity Avenue. The hit had been ordered by the Hells Angels motorcycle club and Paul Derry was at the epicenter of the homicide.
“When the homicide happened, I was the case manager in the major crime office and he (Derry) showed up one day. He wanted to talk to somebody. I spoke to him and felt this guy is telling me the truth and I think we can use him,” says retired Sergeant Shane Halliday – Derry’s eventual police agent handler.
“There is prison, life in prison, death or witness protection. None of those are really good, unless you change your life,” says Derry, finding himself in a precarious position with limited options. His final decision – wear a wire to incriminate affiliates and members of the Hells Angels responsible for the murder of Simmons.
“We went from there and got in touch with the Crown Attorney. We got immunity agreements done up and started working him,” adds Halliday. The 34-year retired police veteran added: “Then we got him (Derry) all set up and started working him on the guys that were in custody, and the guys that weren’t in custody yet. I’ll give him kudos to wear a wire, I wouldn’t. I mean the people he was dealing with.”
Cooperating witnesses in the underworld, commonly referred to as ‘rats’ – the highest form of betrayal against gangsters who preach loyalty. The punishment for crossing over and helping authorities is typically a death sentence, particularly if caught wired for sound in the company of Hells Angels members. This was the choice Paul Derry made. He had no regrets.
“It’s a terrible title in the underworld. I’m quite proud of it. I guess it depends on who you are. I don’t mind being one of the more notorious rats in the country. I wear it proudly. What I did was a good thing,” says Paul Derry.
Derry’s eventual pathway into the witness protection program encountered some dicey moments during the agent operation into the Hells Angels murder investigation. “Paul was going into a pool establishment (the ‘Corner Pocket’) where all the Hells Angels hung out. I mean he was in there by himself. There were no police inside. He was wearing a wire.Anything could have happened inside. By the time we would have gone in he would have been done,” says Halliday, adding that Derry’s life and security were his number one priority throughout the entire agent operation – concluding with the conviction of the Hells Angels president and three ‘hang-around’ members of the club – all for first-degree murder.
“Security is the number one thing when it comes down to it. You’re not going to risk someone’s life, I mean they are risking their life with what they’re doing, but you don’t want to put them in any worse position just to get the case made, it’s not worth it. We had a couple incidents, if I had been Paul, I would have walked away,” says Halliday, referencing an incident during the operation when someone entered Derry’s unattended residence and lined bullets up on his window ledge.
After the case, Paul Derry entered the witness protection program, changed his name and disappeared.
In August 2018 Paul Derry spoke exclusively with Stephen G. Metelsky from UnderworldStories.com
Below are excerpts from that interview:
Q: Back in 2000 you were involved in a Hells Angels contract killing on the East Coast of Canada, that resulted with you cooperating with authorities. What did that cooperation entail?
Paul DERRY: Well, I started out with the Halifax Regional Police when they arrested me. I was wearing a wire for 90 days. Leading up to that, getting the safe houses ready, getting wired up, continuing to meet and signing up the ‘letter of agreement’ and then doing 90 days on the wire.
Q: Were you an informant or an agent at that stage?
Paul DERRY: I was doing informant work with the Halifax RCMP, feeding them information, up until Sean got killed, and when he got killed Halifax Regional began investigating and found out about my work with the RCMP. I was arrested and signed an immunity agreement with Halifax Regional.
Q: What is the difference between being an informant versus an agent?
Paul DERRY: Being an informant you are working on your own and everything you do is on your own. You are coded and working for a police force, in the sense that when you get information you share it and you have a coded number and you can give it safely. You are covered under informant privilege and likely won’t ever have to testify in court, as opposed to an agent where you are going to be directed by the police. Everything you do is directed by the police. You will be required to testify at the end, if needed. But a very fine line though.
Q: What was your official status or relationship to/with the Hells Angels back in 2000?
Paul DERRY: I wasn’t one of them. I don’t know what level they call them now. I was close enough that I was dealing directly selling keys of cocaine to a full patch (Hells Angels member).
Q: A lot of facets of organized criminal groups tend to work together now more than ever to maximize profits. From your experience how did the different types of bikers work with other organized crime groups?
Paul DERRY: If I can use the analogy of hockey to discuss the relationship with the Italians. The Italians own, and the Hells Angels manage and run it, and then you have the puppet clubs doing the work – they would be the farm teams. They are all inter-related. It’s a pyramid structure, who is at the top and how it’s structured all the way down.
Q: If you could go back Paul, would you do anything differently in your past life?
Paul DERRY: Yes, if I could change anything, I wish I understood it wasn’t a game back then. The entire time I worked as an informant from 15. I started at such a young age, I always saw it as a kind of game. It wasn’t until Sean Simmons was killed when I was 38 that I woke up and realized this wasn’t a game, that it had dire consequences. Even though I had seen people die all around me and I’ve been a part of murders and deaths and tortures and all the stuff that goes on with the blood and guts in that world. I had still seen it as a game up until then. So, if I was going to change anything, it would be to not see it as a game, maybe not drink so much and take the job serious. But, then I can say that I don’t know how effective I would have been, I don’t know.
Q: Organized and true crime sells in the media, whether on the news, movies, television or the internet. Because you lived the real life of an organized criminal, what is the difference between reality versus media portrayals of organized crime?
Paul DERRY: I think in the media, depending on which type of media, but media in general, like movies and stuff, they always want to make (pause) – nobody sees the door shut. I’ll tell you what I told my youngest brother. Nobody sees me cry when that cell door shuts. Nobody sees the pain and fear when I’m sitting there with a shotgun with a mattress up against the door, wondering if someone is kicking it in tonight. You can’t, you don’t put that across in the media in the real way that it happens. You make that sound exciting, but it’s not exciting, it’s scary as hell. There is nothing exciting about it. People dying around you hurts. Having people or knowing a hit team might come through your door any minute to kill you is scary. Knowing that you’re walking into a meeting, people patting you down and everybody has guns, knowing someone could pull a gun out and shoot you at any minute is scary. It’s not exciting. It’s the pain and misery that’s in that world. We glorify that excitement, those fears which we turn to excitement and glorify in the media, but I don’t think we show the pain and the misery of the entirety in that world, like the meth addictions and the things women and men give up being a part of that world, their own souls. They’ll do anything. I’m not sure how graphic you want me to get. Some of the most disgusting and vile things that I’ve seen, I have seen in that world, never mind the internet. We can say people are doing it at their own free will, but often they’ve been coerced, extorted, or groomed.
Q: If you were speaking to a classroom full of high school students what would be your best advice to them?
Paul DERRY: Don’t be lured by money that doesn’t exist. You’re going die early if you follow that road. It’s way more fun not being a criminal. There is even more money to be made in the pro-social world. Most people are going into it to get, I think to find a sense of identity, to find something they are missing in their home. Look for a good role model in and around the community, because there are a lot of them waiting around to help. If things suck at home, don’t worry about it, find someone who will help you in your community. That’s what I would say to the community too. You know, we fail as a community because we allow kids to grow up with no parent(s) to guide them, no way of, or how to prepare for this world. It’s our failures. They’re not going into gangs because everything is hunky-dory. They are going into the gangs because they are missing something.
Q: Are you fearful of anything today?
Paul DERRY: Am I fearful? I would never want my children to see me killed. I’m fearful for the society we are leaving behind for my children, just fearful for my children about the potential society we are leaving for them. But yes, I do have fears as I am human. My concerns are what I mentioned, family, society, etcetera. But yes, I fear like everyone – I just choose to not look at them as they are obstacles.
Q: Can you explain the inner workings of a biker gang and why it is so difficult for police to investigate and infiltrate them?
Paul DERRY: I don’t think its hard. I was asked this question at a source handling course once. I said the reason the police aren’t winning is because they don’t have the money. They don’t have the resources. I don’t think it’s hard to get in. I just don’t think they have the money and the resources to do the operations that they need. You must be serious about the problem and I don’t believe that society is serious about the problem. I think there are lots of good officers that are serious about the problem. And, if they had the resources and the money, they have the informants, and they have the people, and they could get in, but they are out cashed. The bad guys have more money. The bad guys don’t play within the rules and the bad guys have all kinds of money. The good guys must play within certain rules and they don’t have any money. When we stop paying for people’s cars getting scratched, because that’s what we do, we tickle the tax payers’ ears. So, whoever is paying the most taxes, it’s their problems, their little bubble in their little neighbourhood. That’s why we see opioids getting a lot of attention now, because guess what, it’s hitting the tax payers’ families now. Well, it’s only a matter of time before opioids and meth and those kinds of things hit you, so now we’ll start paying attention to it. But it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Greed will not allow people to put their money towards it.
Q: There are very few options to get out of organized crime. From your experience, what are the options getting out of life in organized crime?
Paul DERRY: There is prison, life in prison, death or witness protection. I mean, none of those are good, unless you change your life. Obviously for anybody to leave that life behind there are very few options. Witness protection is probably the best way out for them, but only if they are going to change their entire life. Witness protection is going to suck if you want to try to keep on living as a criminal or you don’t want to break any habits or any of the things you struggled with before. Any of the demons you had before hand.
Q: How many times have you been to jail?
Paul DERRY: My largest sentence was 7 years I did, a few bits before that, I think 18 months, 11 months, 3 months and 1 year.
Q: You briefly alluded to no one being there to see you shed a tear when the jail door is shut and how the media portrayals of organized crime don’t properly capture the reality of it. What is the reality of prison?
Paul DERRY: I think it is a dichotomy for me – I loved prison and I hated prison. Loved the experience, but I love it from where I’m at now. I would not trade going back from where I am now. Only so that I can say things like this now to people, that it is a horrific place to be. It’s depressing. It’s violent, it’s sad. People screaming out in the middle of the night in pain. From internal pain, you know, the emotional pain. You hear it all through the night, it wakes you up. I hear, you know lifers, people that know they’re never getting out. People that are not mentally fit to be in a prison that should be in a psychiatric hospital. The depression and suicides. I never worried as much about the fears, nothing played more on my mind than the suicides. I remember walking the yard and wondering when am I going to snap? Like I was walking the yard with this guy yesterday and he hanged himself last night and he was perfectly normal yesterday. So, when is my mind going to snap? Like he’s only got 8 years in and I’m in my 3rd year, do I snap at the same 8? The degradation. I mean if there’s one thing I have hammered home with my children is you never want to experience the degradation of strip searches and a lot of those kind of things. It’s a sad place to exist. I used to read a lot of crime books when I was young and they all glorify crime as they typically do. It was the one thing I didn’t want to do in my books. I remember when I got my 7 years, I remember walking through, and I thought I aspired to be a criminal and here I am. I aspired to be like all these people that wrote all those books and here I am doing time with them. And I thought wow this is what I aspired to be in life – that’s sad. It’s just a waste of life.
Q: What were the results of your cooperation with the police as an agent after the Hells Angels contract murder?
Paul DERRY: I did a lot of informant work. The result is I ended up in witness protection. Got an immunity agreement. Here I am. I got kicked out in 2009, so I’ve been out of witness protection for 9 years. Here is a thing I will always say to my children. I say it to them often. I will not let the fear of a few control the many. The few should never control the many and I should never have to walk in fear for having done the right thing. So, I don’t care if they kill me, I’m not going to change my life for doing something that I believed was right. If I didn’t believe it was right, I wouldn’t have done it. In all the crimes, and they can go back through my record, anyone can. I never ratted to get out of trouble. Even in this murder, if you look, I mean I wasn’t in trouble, I had all the information. I didn’t need to rat to get out of trouble. All the things I did I did because I wanted to do them. If I wanted to stay in the criminal world I would have stayed in the criminal world. I was done. That murder really took a toll on me. You know, like I said I woke up and realized it wasn’t a game. It wasn’t because I got caught. I didn’t get caught for anything. I told the police for 3 weeks leading up to the murder that it was going to happen. So, there’s no getting caught. I had the gun. I drove to the murder. I threw away the gun. I knew where I buried it. I knew where all the evidence was. I knew what when I was being interrogated what they had and what they didn’t have. I could have just sat it out like a typical criminal would for the year, do my time on remand and walked out and continued with my life. But I just, it was at the end when Sean got killed, it was, like I said a wake-up call. This wasn’t a game, and it was time to stop.
Q: You mentioned the word ‘rat.’ Are you comfortable with that title? And what are the ramifications of having that title in the underworld?
Paul DERRY: It’s a terrible title in the underworld. I’m quite proud of it. I guess it depends on who you are. I laugh all the time. I don’t mind being one of the more notorious rats in the country, I wear it proudly. What I did was a good thing. Listen, I’m not happy that I had to watch Stevie go to jail, to prison for life, or Wayne, these people were close to me. Not so much Neil. I don’t care about him. I didn’t care much for him. It’s never nice or easy to break bread with somebody and become their friend or having been their friend for years and years and then having to watch them suffer in any way and know that you’re the cause of it. Reconciling where you’re the cause of it and when they’re the cause of their own demise can sometimes get blurred out of guilt and you know, emotional things you go through. I have dreams about them all the time. It’s a strange way to live, I can tell you that.
Q: Any feelings of guilt for putting them in prison?
Paul DERRY: Guilt, not so much. Loss, I think, more with someone like Wayne, who was married to my cousin. He was part of my family. I grew up around him. You know, sometimes I dream that the relationship is restored and then I wake up and realize it’s never going to happen. Things like that. I think typical things that any human would go through if they are close to somebody.
Q: What would you say to people who think you should be in prison with those people too?
Paul DERRY: If they want to say that, I think I should be in prison with the rest of them because of all the things I never got caught for, not because of anything to do with that murder. Listen, I was a career criminal. I committed crimes all my life. If you added them all up, sure, I should be in prison the rest of my life. But should I be in prison for that crime? No.
Q: What is your life mission now?
Paul DERRY: I have a few different things I’ve set my heart on. One of them is educating the public on organized crime and how much it truly affects society and kicking the apathetic who live in their bubbles, who are not just ignorant, but they know and just don’t want to do anything about it. That includes the politicians, the police force, the treasury boards and all the people in the control of the funds that stop it from getting done.
Q: What’s next for Paul Derry?
Paul DERRY: I am hopefully putting together an online course on source handling and that will likely be the end of my source handling stuff. I’m leaning more towards organized crime and the effects of human trafficking. I’m also working on a documentary on my entire life, and all the work I did all together. There are many cases that I think are sad. The Hells Angels one is the big one and everyone pays attention to it. And I get that, I understand society’s way of thinking that way. But you know there are murders I’ve worked on, and home invasions, where they were much sadder. I think that (these other cases) would make a bigger impact on society and I would like to see them come out.
(End of Interview)
In 2006 Sergeant Shane Halliday retired from the job.
In 2009 Paul Derry got kicked out of the witness protection program after 9 years.
Accused Steven Gareau has been in jail since 2000. To date, he has been through two trials – both convictions being overturned.
In 2017 Dean Kelsie, the Hells Angels hitman who shot Sean Simmons, won a new trial for his first-degree murder conviction. Two new trials will occur in the fall of 2018.
These are the known facts to date about this case.
As for Paul Derry’s current identity and whereabouts – unknown.
You can see more of Paul Derry’s story on the OUTLAW BIKERS episode: “Contract from Hell” on NETFLIX. An upcoming book & documentary about Derry’s story is soon to be released.
Stephen G. Metelsky, M.A. is a freelance crime writer/journalist, criminologist and college professor, with over 20 years experience as a police (ret.) sergeant. Stephen is a contributing columnist with Blue Line magazine and has covered true crime stories for various newspapers affiliated with Metroland Media Group & Postmedia Network Inc.
For more information, visit Stephen G. Metelsky on:
Originally Published: Blue Line magazine – June/July 2008 edition
Navigating a robotic mouth through a maze of dots in ‘Pac-man,’ a 1980’s video game, is a far cry from realistically decapitating someone in ‘Postal 2,’ a popular 2003 game. This violent trend continues to thrive, as do the game makers. Profits ballooned from $3.2 billion in 1995 to $7 billion in 2003. (1)
Considering the average child spends some four to eight hours a day using electronic media, (1) its safe to assume many have access to violent video games. Research on video game violence has revealed a significant relationship between exposure and aggressive behaviour in society. (2)
As violent video games have increased, so have highly publicized violent incidents involving youths with strong affiliations to them. The Columbine high school shooting in 1999, for example, involved two students obsessed with the video game ‘Doom’ – so realistic that the U.S. military licensed it to train soldiers how to shoot and kill in an effective manner. (3) The students rehearsed by playing it incessantly. Some researchers argue that this repeated exposure to depictions of graphic violence can contribute to desensitization. (3)
Compared with other media, research into video game violence is sparse, yet “many of the underlying psychological processes identified in the TV-movie literature also apply to video games.” (2) Many are concerned about how video games and mass media validate violence on a daily basis. There is vicarious agreement among scientists that media depictions of violence substantially effect children, primarily by increasing aggressive and violent behaviour. (4)
Opinions vary on the causal connection linking aggressive behaviours with exposure to violent media forums. The entertainment industry argues that there is absolutely no relationship between violent media and aggressive behaviour(s), (5) and that violence perpetuated within the media is simply a societal reflection of what occurs in everyday life. (5)
“If you cut the wires of all TV sets today, there would still be no less violence on the streets in two years,” argued Motion Picture Association of America president Jack Valenti. (6) This is simply an unsubstantiated opinion not supported by scientific research. Scientists have presented some clear and convincing behavioural evidence supporting the causal relationship between media violence and aggressive behaviour(s).
Sales of violent video games have skyrocketed over the past few years. If they cause violence, why aren’t youths who have just played them committing more murders, the entertainment industry would like to argue.
“Media violence exposure is not a necessary and sufficient cause of violence…not everyone who watches violent media becomes aggressive and not everyone who is aggressive watches violent media” (5) – but there is scientific evidence indicating that violent media does have an affect on violent behaviour.
“At this time, well over 1,000 studies point overwhelmingly to a causal connection between media violence and aggressive behaviour in some children,” six professional/medical organizations noted in a 2000 joint statement. (7) Two critical implications can be derived from this.
First, there is valid and reliable scientific evidence from some of the most reputable U.S. professional agencies indicating a causal relationship between viewing media violence and the onset of aggressive behaviour(s). Second, the joint statement refers to “some” children being affected, not “all,” but given the amount of violent media available, that “some” could be a resounding and significant number.
Probably the most damaging aspect of youth overexposure to violent media is that the repeated depictions of violent behaviour become engrained as learned behaviour. Learning theories predict that violent video game play can influence behaviour through reinforcement, practice and observational learning. (8) Social learning theory (9) explains violence at the individual level as aggression vicariously learned through observation. (9)
Bushman and Huesmann define observational learning as the process “through which behavioural scripts, world schemas and normative beliefs become encoded in a child’s mind simply as a consequence of the child observing others. Observational learning is a powerful extension of imitation in which logical induction and abstraction are used to encode complex representations.” (10)
Their research indicates children are susceptible to violence in both the short and long term after observing it depicted in the media. Emphasis is also placed on extra parameters to ensure protection for children against prolonged and/or repeated exposure to violent media. (10)
Consider the following factual scenario. There are hundreds of thousands of young children across the world who daily play, unsupervised, violent video games, including ‘Grand Theft Auto’,’ which encourages auto theft, car jacking, armed robbery, assault with a weapon, drug use and prostitution. Another game of choice may be ’25 to Life,’ where the user picks a weapon and then proceeds to hunt down and kill police officers.
Behavioural scientists argue that repeat exposure to violent media can lead to a process of desensitization, whereby children develop “normative beliefs that aggression is appropriate.” (10) This overexposure to observing media violence can create emotional desensitization towards violence in society. (7)
There is no doubt that children exposed to repeat images of violence in the mass media may suffer dangerous lifelong consequences. (11)
Addicted to several forms of violent media – including musical lyrics, television, movies and most prominently, video games, especially ‘Doom’ – the Columbine killers superimposed the faces of students and teachers who had wronged them in the past onto the faces of the victims depicted in the game. They played it to the point of intense obsession, constantly rehearsing shooting their victims.
Research has shown youth learn behaviours, attain knowledge and have their value systems molded via exposure to violence in the media. (12) It’s difficult to speculate the exact role violent media played in the tragic Columbine scenario, as both killers ended their lives, but it undoubtedly played a significant role.
Repeated exposure to emotionally stimulating media can significantly reduce emotional reactions to violence occurring in the real world. Furthermore, based on this desensitization process, youth can then “think about and plan proactive aggressive acts without experiencing negative affect.” (10) This is exactly what the Columbine killers set out to do, planning in a premeditated manner to shoot and kill innocent students and teachers as an outlet for their internalized aggression and frustrations towards students who didn’t make them feel a part of the school. They nonchalantly killed 13 people and wounded 24 others before killing themselves. It’s very difficult to determine if violent media played a role in this massacre.
How do researchers account for youth exposed to similar forms of violent media who are non-aggressive? Research indicates computer games can contribute to violent behaviour at certain times, as they may “trigger aggression in certain people already predisposed to violence.” (13)
“There are a lot of kids that are angrier than they were 10 or 15 years ago,” notes Dr. Robert Butterworth, a trauma psychologist in an Arts & Entertainment documentary. “Stress of the family, a lot more broken homes, kids that don’t know any other reaction when they are frustrated than to strike out in a violent way. They don’t have anything else in their arsenal of responses. Add that to these violent images that will grow and fester to the point where you may have a full blown fantasy mixed in with violence and we’ve seen the tragic results.” (14)
Ironically this documentary aired two months prior to the Columbine shooting. The essence of the statement serves as a template for what transpired – youth who become engaged in criminality have to accept the consequences of their violent actions and take the full brunt of responsibility, in lieu of deflecting blame elsewhere.
Researchers must continue exploring the behavioural evidence linking exposure to media violence with real world violence. Violent media did not essentially create the violence at Columbine high school but it definitely contributed to the events. As Butterworth suggests: “you take a youngster who has the predisposition. You put them in an environment where the media shows these things (violence) and its like a triggering effect. The media doesn’t create, it triggers these people with the disposition.”
Joireman et al. (2003) and Anderson and Bushman (2002; 2001) define aggression as “a behaviour intended to cause immediate harm to another individual when it is understood that the target is motivated to avoid such harm.” (15)
It would be difficult to understand the innate behaviours of both Columbine killers, but it’s safe to assume they were both extremely frustrated with different facets of their life, including relationships with peers and teachers, school performance, etc. They were also addicted to violence depicted in various media forums. Based on the behavioural evidence, it would appear that the combination of high levels of frustration and an aggressive predisposition created a ticking time bomb waiting to be triggered. According to the Frustration-Aggression hypothesis, Dollard et al. (1939) proposed: “people who are frustrated, thwarted, annoyed or threatened will behave aggressively, since aggression is a natural, almost automatic response to frustrating circumstances. Moreover, people who exhibit aggressive behaviour are frustrated, thwarted, annoyed or threatened.” (16)
This psychosocial approach details the inverse relationship between frustration and aggression and is a relevant theory to explain the killers’ violent behaviours in terms of the motivating precursors to the shooting.
A second relevant psychosocial theory is ‘Displaced Aggression.’ Denson et al. (2006) theorize that this process occurs when a person is somehow provoked but unwilling (or unable) to act against the person who initiated the provocation. (17) The Columbine victims were not the source of the initial provocations of their killers. The retaliation involved innocent bystanders who had absolutely no involvement or previous conflicts with them and hence was an act of displaced aggression. (17)
A specific aspect of this psychosocial theory details how these frustrated people will intently focus on their anger and set out to plan a retaliatory attack. (17) This sub-theme specifically outlines the sequence of events that unfolded from the onset of the original sources of provocation to the aftermath, which involved extreme aggression displaced amongst victims with no connection to the initial sources of conflict(s).
Art sometimes imitates life in inappropriate ways. A few years following Columbine, the video game ‘Super Columbine Massacre’ was developed. (18) The user could assume the role of the ‘shooter’ and role play through different scenarios, using various weapons to kill teachers and students. Glorified violence (contained within various forums of media) clearly perpetuates and/or encourages copycat crime(s).
Consider this statement from Lieberman on the A&E documentary. “Each generation has been exposed to more and more media, so in a sense each new generation is more vulnerable to the psychological impact of media and to engaging in copycat crime.” There were several documented copycat incidents resulting from Columbine, including the 2006 Dawson College shooting by a crazed gunman obsessed with violent video games, including ‘Super Columbine Massacre’ and ‘Postal 2.’
The young Montreal gunman strolled into a local college equipped with an assault weapon and long dark trench coat (similar to the Columbine shooters) and, like them, killed himself. The aftermath of this tragedy revealed his dark obsession with death and violence. He had created an online profile on the vampires.com website which provided a detailed insight into his demented mind.
The killer indicated that he hated jocks, preppies and all people in authority. “Work sucks, school sucks, life sucks, what else can I say? Life is a video game, you’ve got to die sometime,” Kimveer Gill stated. (19) The frustration-aggression hypothesis again applies, as it is obvious that there was a high level of aggressive predispositions in his behavioural repertoire. These pent up frustrations eventually surfaced in a violent and aggressive response. (16)
The killers frustration levels ae captured in other online postings, made under the username ‘fatality666,’ including this one: “I am not a people person. I have met a handful of people in my life who are decent but I find the majority to be worthless. It’s not only the bullies fault, but the principal’s fault for turning a blind eye. It’s also the fault of the police. Anger and hatred simmers within me.” (20)
Gill’s words echo the sentiments highlighted in the theory of displaced aggression. He experienced a life of frustration resulting from various sources of provocation. Adhering to the psychosocial theory, he was intently focused on his anger and planned to seek retaliation. (17) His victims were not connected to him or his original sources of frustration. Furthermore, he never attended Dawson College, nor did he have any other affiliations with the school, a hallmark trait of displaced aggression.
Finally, it is difficult again to pinpoint the exact role violent video games played in this tragedy, but the research has shown that repeated exposure to depictions of graphic violence can contribute to desensitization. (3)
The video games containing the most violence have subsequently been given an ‘M’ rating for mature. Less violent games are rated ‘T’ for teen. The M rated games contain blood and profanity and depict severe injuries and death to human and non-human characters. (21) They are not to be sold to minors, yet consumers are overwhelmingly youth under the legal age of purchase, which varies by region.
In May, 2003, Washington became the first U.S. state to officially ban the sale of realistic ‘cop-killer’ video games to children under 17. (13) The idea of allocating specific ratings to prohibit minors from buying these games is only one way to control how youth access violent media. Parents must proactively play a role, and this is not emphasized enough.
It is one thing to put societal restraints on violent media content labels and warnings, but parents have the ultimate control in limiting or eliminating violent content in their children’s viewing habits. As Bushman and Huesmann suggest, they need to be aware of the consequences of viewing media with repeated violence and protect their children from it. (10)
Health care professionals, primarily child and adolescent psychiatrists, are now being encouraged to include a ‘media history’ in medical evaluations of children, incorporating it as a possible risk factor in a clinical diagnosis. (12) The starting point still revolves around the home environment.
“The more that you are exposed to parents who are loving and affectionate and who will spend a lot of time with you (attention),” Lieberman suggests, “the more you can fight against these ideas and images you see on the screen.”
Limiting children’s exposure to violent media, combined with positive family exposure, can be a preventative measure against negative media influences.
The behavioural research has clearly shown that there is a causal relationship between media depictions of violence and an increase in aggressive behaviour(s) in youths. Given the recent emergence of more sophisticated violent video games, including the recent release of the latest Grand Theft Auto game, it is vital that researchers add to the minimal research and continue exploring the dynamic relationship between video games and violence.
Recent tragic events have supported the hypothesis that violent video games are desensitizing and causing youths to become increasingly more violent.
It was April 21st, 2004. A regular day in the city of Toronto. The mother of three parked her car and walked into a local sandwich shop. She would never walk again.
“I just walked in and they opened fire. Bullets shattered the glass,” says Louise Russo, the innocent bystander, caught in the middle of a botched underworld hit involving the mafia and outlaw motorcycle gangs.
The single bullet shattered Russo’s spine, leaving her paralyzed forever. The ripple effect from the California Sandwich shooting reverberates today, fraught with violence and murder. But this story isn’t about them. This is about one woman’s mission and determination to curtail senseless acts of violence in her community. For Russo, ‘violence stopped being a word and became a cause.’
When life gave her lemons, she not only made lemonade, Russo became the C.E.O of her own stand, taking control of her life. But it wasn’t an easy start after the shooting. She persevered with the love and support from her family, friends, and a determination to create change resulting in positive outcomes for her community. “My life was totally destroyed, I took it a day at a time, an hour at a time. But through this journey I have come to really know Louise and who I am, and I love who I am today, much more than before. I am mentally stronger than ever,” says Russo, reflecting about her incredible journey over a cup of tea in a local Toronto coffee shop.
Her sheer strength and determination culminated with a grass roots not-for-profit organization created in 2006 called Louise Russo W.A.V.E. – an acronym for ‘Working Against Violence Everyday.’ W.A.V.E subsequently received its charitable status three years later in 2009. W.A.V.E. works diligently at inspiring youth and members of the community to take action, make positive choices and initiate projects that will make schools and communities a safer place to live, learn and play – reads the mission statement for her organization.
Her outreach to youth in her community extends beyond the sole topic of violence. “When I go into schools I want the students to see the bigger picture. To educate them and create awareness about the impact of violence so they all have a better understanding of it,” says Russo.
Russo has also inspired and motivated youths with mental health issues, learning disabilities, physical disabilities, bullying, and issues with self-esteem. A bigger picture indeed. “I want to give kids the opportunity to express themselves freely,” adds Russo.
Louise sums up her life’s work in one word: Believe. It is inscribed on several leather bracelets she had made. Russo explains her definition of the word: “Believe is just finding that inner strength in you. Regardless of what you’re going through there is always something that can keep you going. To believe I made a difference in the life of a youth. That will make a change in their life and have them believe in themselves.”
In 2010 Russo was appointed to be a board member for the Office for Victims of Crime, an independent advisory board to the Attorney General of Ontario on victim’s issues. Russo is passionate about victim’s rights and creating change. She has an important message for others who have unfortunately been victimized by crime. “Make the most of your life. You are a victim of violent crime but don’t continue to become victimized every day of your life. In time, I hope the victim can create change and eventually be a positive role model and give back.” It is clear Russo lives everyday of her life by these words.
What about the rise in gun violence in Toronto? To date, in 2018 there have been 26 homicides directly attributable to shootings in the city, compared to 17 deaths stemming from gun violence up until July 2017. “It’s horrible. But you can’t live in fear that way. We should always feel we are in a safe environment, but we must look at the root causes, prevention, and support. Let’s look at the people that are causing this, the gangs,” Russo says, adding her support for an increased police presence in Toronto, on the streets and in the schools.
Hours after Russo was interviewed, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders and Mayor John Tory held a press conference to announce a $3 million operational plan to deploy up to 200 hundred officers throughout the city, dictated by intelligence led policing, to curb the recent spate of gun violence. The eight-week initiative appears to be a short-term solution to an issue requiring a longer-term commitment in the city. “We have to work against violence everyday. Our communities need to be a safer place. Criminals need to be accountable for what they’re involved in. We need to look at some of the root causes of this violence and provide programs for our youth,” says Louise Russo, adding that “I’m thankful for the police.”
To effectively combat gun violence in Toronto a concerted effort needs to be exerted towards this issue continually on all levels: policing, financially and politically. Cutbacks due to reduced incidents and a heightened, yet false sense of security that the violence has dissipated, should be avoided. Russo adds: “We need more police officers to deal with the gangs.” We also need more people like Louise Russo – who exemplify the principles of respect, responsibility, and the role of leadership in their communities.
“I have learned so much from giving. I feel it’s important to give back. It’s been an incredible journey. If we volunteered a little bit of our time,” adds Russo. And time is of the essence in the city of Toronto. It’s time to proactively target the issue of gun violence to reduce victimization in our communities. As Russo attests, “we have to find more ways to make our communities safer. I feel it’s important to give back that way. To give people strength and encouragement.”
Louise Russo is truly inspiring. The interview ended with a W.A.V.E – and a hug.
The acronym is ISIS – the Islamic State, Iraq, and Syria. They are likely the most dangerous terrorist group to date in history. A group of highly military trained jihadists, with extremist ideologies involving destroying the West and attacking anyone in their way, particularly representations of government – such as military personnel and police officers. Given their access and possession to weapons of potential mass destruction, likely one of the most dangerous weapons ISIS has at their disposal is their ability to utilize digital social media to produce and release images that will intimidate, terrorize, and create a hysteric climate across the globe. ISIS is also adept at using social media, attempting to attract, influence and persuade some people towards radicalization and joining the jihadist cause through their technologically savvy propogandist messages strewn across the internet in several languages almost daily in various digital forms.
The violent videos projected across the globe via social media of ISIS soldiers beheading prisoners is by far the most blatantly constructed graphic images ever strewn across digital media. ISIS utilizes social media to fulfill two goals. The first, is to release their terrorist intentions to the world, capturing their murderous mantra with demonstrable, and heinous ferocity, in professionally produced graphic videos. The second, is to utilize social media to spread their extremist jihadi propaganda to not only recruit potential jihadists, but to create an aura of hysteria built on fear and paranoia across the world that a terrorist attack is imminent at anytime, anywhere. One of the main facilitators to the rise of ISIS is how they manufacture and manipulate social media to proliferate their propagandist messages to potential target audiences across the world. 1
ISIS is comprised of highly trained and educated individuals, some specifically tasked with recruiting potential new jihadists into their organization via digital media. The prolific ISIS propaganda targets and reaches an audience comprised of varying age, gender, culture, and countries of origin. 2 Having the ability to reach a worldwide audience with the strokes of a few computer keys has been an extremely effective media tool to recruit members into their terrorist organization, in the absence and proximity of being present in ISIS territory. There have been several documented cases of individuals being radicalized by ISIS mainly through their online terrorist propaganda that has prompted them to travel abroad to fight as a jihadist. Yet, ISIS utilizes an alternate form of terror attacks through their persuasive media tentacles across the globe, the seeds of terror being planted in the minds of potential radical converts whose only exposure and knowledge of ISIS has been through social media access.
“Lone Wolf” Attacks in Canada
In 2014-2015 ISIS recruiters built on this alternate form of planting and implementing the seeds of terror across the world with a new marketing message for their audiences via digital social media. The extremist campaign encouraged newly radicalized members to represent and serve the caliphate in their own home countries, without the need to travel abroad to fight for ISIS on their own turf. ISIS specifically encouraged individuals to carry out a terrorist attack in the west on their behalf. 3 This is what came to be known as the “lone wolf” terrorist ideology. A ‘lone wolf’ is an individual inspired by ISIS but acting independently without the groups support or direction. 4
A majority of the ‘lone wolf’ radicalized individuals have never travelled abroad, nor have they met any members of the terrorist organization. Yet, the ramifications of this terrorist propaganda media message would have dire consequences world wide, with several “lone wolf” attacks being carried out across North America and Europe between 2014 to present. Most of the incidents involved individuals who became radicalized through social media contacts and ISIS videos and propaganda. In 2014 there were two high profile ‘lone wolf’ incidents that occurred in Canada. The circumstances involved two tragic incidents of radicalized individuals, both of Canadian descent, who carried out separate horrific incidents, hailed as “lone wolf” attacks, inspired and influenced by the digital media propaganda produced by ISIS.
The first incident in 2014 involved a radicalized Canadian citizen who decided to run down warrant officer Patrice Vincent and a second soldier in the province of Quebec, mortally wounding Vincent. The killer was Martin Couture-Rouleau, a ‘lone wolf’ who identified with the ISIS terrorist ideology, particularly in the year leading up to this tragic event, as his descent into the dark web of terrorist propaganda inspired him to travel abroad and fight as a jihadist and die as a martyr. His passport was eventually seized, leading the radicalized lone wolf down the path of committing a terrorist atrocity on his home turf – Canada.
The family of Couture-Rouleau later claimed that his behaviour had drastically changed leading up to the tragic events, as well as his appearance – donning Islamic clothing and growing facial hair. He was also upset with the Canadian government regarding their approach and stance on ISIS. In the aftermath, it was discovered Couture-Rouleau had been spending a significant amount of time on the internet, including viewing jihadist/ISIS propaganda messages and videos via his Facebook page. Like most lone wolves, terrorist events and/or spree shooters, the planning and premeditation typically involves the knowledge that they will die during the event; precisely what occurred during this ‘lone wolf’ incident as Couture-Rouleau was fatally shot by the police. The troubling aspect involving individuals becoming radicalized on their own, in tandem with succumbing to the Islamic terrorist rhetoric, is the notion that they will be recognized and rewarded for the tragic circumstances as a ‘martyr.’
The second incident in 2014 also involved another radicalized Canadian citizen who shot and killed Corporal Nathan Cirillo while he stood guard at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, Ontario. He was Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, an individual with a troubled past, involving prior contact with the criminal justice system and speculation of lingering mental health issues and substance abuse. Yet, it was evidently clear Zehaf-Bibeau was devoted to Islamic rhetoric and motivated by political ideology. The video recordings he subsequently produced and documented, confirmed the fact Zehalf-Bibeau was a radicalized and articulate individual with a staunch political and ideological stance, a viewpoint clearly not pro-Canadian.
After an unsuccessful attempt to obtain a Canadian passport, to facilitate travelling abroad to Syria to fight for the jihadist cause, Zehaf-Bibeau opted to formulate an alternative plan entailing a terroristic ‘lone wolf’ attack on Canadian soil, inspired by, but not under the direction of ISIS. The attack began when Zehaf-Bibeau drove towards Parliament Hill in a rented vehicle, void of license plates. After the tragic, unprovoked fatal attack on Corporal Cirillo, the shooter stormed the interior of Parliament Hill and died in a hail of gunfire moments later near the Hall of Honour. Both ‘lone wolf’ Canadian terrorist incidents in 2014 epitomize how two Canadian born, radicalized citizens succumbed to the Islamist rhetoric and ISIS terrorist ideology, opting to carry out terrorist ‘lone wolf’ attacks in their home country as per the directions ISIS provided via digital social media.
What are the root causes that propel these individuals to carry out these atrocious, violent criminal acts? Are the motivating criminal behaviours fuelled by their ideological beliefs or triggered by a mental health psychosis, or a combination thereof?
Psychosis versus Extremist Ideological Beliefs
During the aftermath of any tragic event, albeit a terrorist ‘lone wolf’ attack or a ‘spree shooting’, investigators and researchers vehemently attempt to discern the sequence of events that led a person to commit these heinous, atrocious crimes to identify additional evidence and the motivators that propelled these perpetrators to do what they did. At times, the public perception or collective conscious of society presumes the terroristic or spree shooter was operating under duress of some underlying psychotic disorder that was the motivating factor behind the crimes they committed. As difficult as it is to discern the internal motivators of killers, whether influenced by internal psychosis or internalized beliefs, the persuasive power of people’s extremist ideological beliefs can propel them to commit these ‘lone wolf’ terrorist attacks, in the absence of a psychotic mental illness.
It is difficult to identify and discern if psychosis was a contributing factor and motivator in the two homegrown Canadian ‘lone wolf’ terror incidents. There is still some lingering debate about this contentious issue, particularly with Ottawa based terrorist Michael Zehaf-Bibeau. However, the video messages he produced reveal an articulate well-spoken individual, appearing to be a mentally balanced individual whose behaviour is more apt and influenced by the social external influencers of ISIS, which molded his internal extremist ideological beliefs, thus forming the premeditators for future criminality.
Similarly, Timothy McVeigh, the American responsible for the largest homegrown terror attack in the United States with the bombing of an Oklahoma federal building in 1995. The motivators for McVeigh did not evidently appear to be rooted in any form of psychosis or mental disorder as he had been deemed competent to stand trial. He was solely motivated by his extremist ideological beliefs, based on anti-government resentment stemming from the government intervention during the Waco, Texas standoff in tandem with his support for the supremacy movement in the United States. This tragically culminated in the loss of 168 lives in Oklahoma on April 19, 1995 – planned on the anniversary of the Waco incident and a day before the birthday of Adolf Hitler on April 20th. The date selected for this attack was not a coincidence. Anniversary dates of previous tragedies may sometimes serve a pivotal role in the premeditated mind of a potential terrorist and/or spree killer when they are planning an attack.
Most of these terroristic, spree type attacks involve perpetrators with internal ideological beliefs so strong, albeit in the absence of a mental illness, that they are willing to act out in the most extreme way, culminating in what the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders terms – an ‘extreme overvalued belief.’ 5 Tahir Rahman, an assistant professor of Psychiatry at the University of Missouri school of Medicine defines this ‘extreme overvalued belief’ as: “a belief that is shared by others and often relished, amplified, and defended by the accused. The individual has an intense emotional commitment to the belief and may act violently as a result of that belief.” 6 The discussion of psychosis and ideological beliefs both involve internalized processes that may be difficult precursors for investigators, friends, and family to identify before tragedy strikes. However, there are some external indicators and commonalities that many of these perpetrators exhibit and share that need to be proactively examined, investigated, and inspected with a scrutinizing approach.
The Contagion Effect
When ISIS was actively promoting the ‘lone wolf’ ideology through a social media marketing campaign in 2014 it is difficult to discern if the terrorist organization anticipated the ripple effect their ideology would have in North America and Europe – specifically pertaining to the contagion, or “copy-cat” effect. For example, the two Canadian lone wolf terror attacks in Ottawa and Quebec occurred within two days of each other on the 20th and 22nd of October 2014. The factual evidence stemming from these two tragic instances confirms that both perpetrators were influenced and motivated to commit these violent actions due to their extreme ideological beliefs, rooted in Islamist rhetoric and propaganda-laced social media, produced by ISIS.
Both perpetrators experienced difficulties with their Canadian passports, forcing them to buy into the ISIS promoted ‘lone wolf’ ideology of instigating a terror attack on their home soil. It is a difficult theory to assert, but the contagion effect would suggest the media exposure surrounding the terrorist attack on October 20, 2014 in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec may have propelled Michael Zehaf-Bibeau to conduct his terrorist, murderous intentions two days later in Ottawa, Ontario. There is no doubt Zehaf-Bibeau was going to act on his extreme ideological jihadist beliefs in the form of a Canadian terrorist attack, but his plans may have been expedited due to the massive media exposure directed towards the Quebec ‘lone wolf’ terrorist attack.
Pertaining to media contagion, trauma psychologist Dr. Robert Butterworth suggests: “you take a person who has that predisposition. You put them in an environment where the media shows these things (violence) and it’s like a triggering effect. The media doesn’t create, it triggers these people with the disposition.” 7
Zehaf-Bibeau possessed the extremist ideological disposition to carry out a murderous terror attack. The proximity of these two Canadian ‘lone wolf’ attacks to each other suggests the media exposure on October 20th, 2014 may have triggered the Ottawa attacks two days later. The Columbine shooters, both obsessed with Timothy McVeigh, perpetrated the mass shootings at their high school on April 20th, mirroring Hitler’s birthday and anniversary of Waco, Texas, and the Oklahoma bombings. Another tragedy specifically planned to occur on a significant, yet tragic historical date. With the intense media coverage of the Columbine shootings, eight days later in Taber, Alberta another school shooting occurred, propelled, and motivated by the contagion or ‘copy-cat’ effect.
The troubling aspect to the contagion effect is the rippling effect of motivating other potential perpetrators viewing the repetitious media coverage of a violent event, with either an extreme ideological belief or underlying psychosis (or a combination of both), to act out in a violent way due to the media exposure of another violent tragedy. The contagion effect may trigger a person to act out violently who is suffering from a form of psychosis alone, without them even harboring extreme ideological beliefs affiliated to ISIS.
Precursors of Radicalization
It is very difficult for investigators to predict when a ‘lone wolf’ terror attack will occur, because most times they are not privy to the internal and external signs being exhibited by the potential perpetrator because nothing about them overtly places them on the radar as a potential ‘person of interest.’ Most perpetrators have a clean criminal record. It cannot be overstated why the family, friends, coworkers, peers et al. of potential extremists need to be proactively vigilant with recognizing, identifying, and reporting potentially troubling signs that may pinpoint an extreme ideological shift with a specific person’s mindset.
The following precursors, in no way represents a full, comprehensive list of specific descriptors to be cautious of when identifying a person who may be susceptible to, or is becoming radicalized. However, an increase in the number of precursors identified and associated with a specific person would warrant further inspection and monitoring et al. The following may be some of the common precursors to be cognizant of, including, but not limited to the following list:
• May not have a criminal record
• Possible onset or increase in alcohol and/or drug consumption
• Fluctuation in mood & overall demeanour
• Cognitive reasoning becomes more extreme (example: ‘anti-government’)
• Conversion to Islam from original family religious background
• Verbal utterances adhering to ISIS support and/or in relation to another terrorist incident
• Onset of psychosis/mental health issues
• Socially withdrawn from family and friends
• Change in employment – termination and/or resignation
• Increased travel plans (either abroad or within Canada)
• If enrolled as a student, increased absenteeism, and a decrease in grades
• Change in style of clothing
• Longer hair and growing of facial hair
• Weight loss
• New tattoos possibly symbolizing radicalism/ISIS
d) Digital/Print Media
• Increased internet usage and streaming content
• Possession of more than one cellular device
• Travelling frequently outside the home to utilize free WIFI services (re: IP address)
• Newspaper clippings of terrorist attacks or pdf files on computer
• Utilizing several online pseudonyms on various fake social media accounts
• Various social media posts, images, videos and/or comments made on their own
Social media accounts that may appear anti-government and in support of ISIS et al.
• The printing of maps of potential Canadian locations (soft and hard targets)
• Handwritten or typed notes/drawings/journals et al.
• Closing of various bank accounts
• Paying off or incurring debt on credit card(s)
• Utilizing a rental vehicle(s)
• Wiring money abroad and/or elsewhere
• Obtaining or updating a Canadian passport
• Purchase and/or possession of any type of weaponry
• Historical dates of significance (example: September 11th)
To successfully deter and prevent these atrocious events from occurring, a joint multi-faceted approach must be adopted and implemented, promoting ‘proactive resilience’ – comprised of research, investigation, collaborative intelligence, education, and awareness. This must occur on many institutional levels, incorporating joint responsibility and input from all facets of the judicial system, researchers, the family structure, the media, peer support programs/systems and the educational system to intercede and proactively prevent these tragic circumstances from occurring. Reacting after a tragic event has become more frequent today.
Not every situation is avoidable, however, with shared, focused due diligence, tragedy can be potentially deterred and avoided. This was evidenced by the successful teamwork with the recent sentencing of a radicalized Canadian citizen to 4.5 years in jail, who was communicating with and attempting to join ISIS in Syria. This came to fruition on October 31, 2017 after a joint investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in partnership with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The key to combatting repeated victimology is a concentrated proactive focus on ‘intervention’ and ‘prevention.’ The proactive ISIS acronym to combat terrorism must involve an: Integrative Security & Intelligence Strategy. Tackling a lone wolf, let alone a pack, will require a joint collective effort.
1-4 Investigative Report (2016). Arts & Entertainment Television Network: “ISIS: Rise of Terror.” (Video Documentary) October 3, 2017
What propels criminals to provide sensitive information to police under the guise of being a confidential human source?
Pictured: James “Whitey” Bulger
The recruitment and handling of sources involves one of the most dangerous activities a police service can become affiliated with. The first phase of assessing the viability, credibility and reliability of a confidential human source involves identifying and determining the core motivators to decipher why a person becomes a confidential source. This should involve a continual process for the duration of the source’s involvement with the police, due to motives being fluid and not fixed. The motivators of an informant may fluctuate throughout their covert tenure with the police; therefore, the importance of continually assessing and reassessing their behavioural motives is key to ensure the balancing criminal pendulum is benefiting a police service and not potentially hindering it.
The three most common types of motivators for people to provide sensitive information is:
• In exchange for judicial consideration,
• Monetary compensation,
• The civic duty to do the right thing.
Pictured: Johnny Depp portraying James “Whitey” Bulger in: “BLACK MASS” (2015)
The sources that provide information to the police merely on the grounds of “doing the right thing” typically do not seek or request compensation or consideration from the police. However, these types of sources still require a significant amount of due diligence from the handling officer(s), in tandem with adhering to respective policies and procedures.
Such handling becomes problematic when sources are more actively embedded within organized criminal groups. In these circumstances, the underlying motives for cooperating with the police may not be evidently clear to the handling officers, particularly if they are inexperienced handlers. A hypothetical scenario involving an entrenched organized criminal being handled by two relatively inexperienced handlers can potentially translate into exposing a police service to the elevated risks of confidential human source handling. With that said, the two most dangerous types of motivators a confidential human source can possess is: wanting to seek revenge (against competing organized crime groups) and/or attempting to corrupt a police officer.
Organized criminal groups, like certain outlaw motorcycle gangs and Eastern European crime clans, routinely encourage members to actively compromise and corrupt a police officer in order to snatch inside information about arrests, warrants and investigations.
The human source motivators involving ‘revenge’ and ‘corruption’ were tragically exposed in the FBI’s handling of former Boston mafia boss: James “Whitey” Bulger. Bulger did provide information to his FBI handler — agent James Connolly —but it was to eliminate his competition, the Italian mafia in Boston to facilitate the expansion of Bulger’s criminal enterprise. Eventually, the relationship between Bulger and Connolly involved the dissemination of information from the FBI directly to benefit Bulger — including the identities of other confidential sources, some of whom were murdered due to the one-way information exchange.
It’s an extreme and relatively isolated case, but it highlights the importance of adhering to the policies and guidelines for handling confidential human sources, including (but not limited to): meeting a source with a partner, protecting the identity of a source, maintaining the flow of information from source to the police (never the opposite), refraining from divulging your personal information and/or exchanging information electronically, documenting information so it can be followed up for verification, reliability and corroboration; and knowing the differences between a source and an agent.
Never task or direct a confidential human source. A confidential human source handler wants to know what a source sees and hears when they are active on the streets. Once a source is tasked with something as simple as retrieving a phone number, the handler has essentially elevated that source into the role of a police agent. That now incorporates a whole slew of additional policies, procedures and regulations.
At the end of the day, be professional and adhere to your respective policies and procedures, seek advice from other experienced handlers and/or consult with a designated Crown attorney versed in this type of intelligence work.
Pictured: Former FBI Agent: James Connolly
Meanwhile, Connolly, the former FBI agent and confidential human source handler, is now living in a federal prison where orange is the new white(y).