An eight-week undercover police investigation into drug dealing at Huntington Beach high schools ended Thursday with the arrests of eight students on suspicion of selling small amounts of cocaine and marijuana on four campuses.
The sting operation--the second of its kind in Huntington Beach in two years--was undertaken at the request of school district administrators to combat what they categorized as a drug problem in the schools. The problem, they said, is similar to that found on school campuses throughout California.
School district officials said they asked the Huntington Beach Police Department last spring to conduct an undercover operation similar to one that police conducted two years ago at the city's Edison High School, which netted 23 arrests.
"This is part of a pro-active drug abuse campaign," George Bloch, assistant superintendent of the Huntington Beach Union High School District, said in a press conference Thursday to announce the results of the current investigation. "We are interested in promoting in the schools that you have certain consequences (of using drugs)."
"We're sorry that operations like this have to take place, but at the same time we don't want a few kids to disrupt the school," Bloch added. "I don't look at it as punitive, and I don't look at it as bad."
Police Lt. Ed McErlain, who also attended the press conference, said the undercover operation was intended to "restrict and reduce drug sales" through arrests of suspected campus dealers. Since only eight people were arrested in this operation compared to 23 in the previous operation at Edison two years ago, McErlain said the undercover efforts are apparently succeeding as a deterrent.
"Kids are more cautious (in whom they sell to)," McErlain said.
Many students, teachers and parents lauded the undercover investigation Thursday, saying the action was long overdue on the campuses. Several described drug use on the campuses as widespread.
"I'd like a cop in every classroom if that would take care of the problem," said Bob Hardigree, 17, a senior at Huntington Beach High, where at least two students were arrested.
But some students interviewed said they doubted that the arrests would provide a long-lasting deterrence.
"It'll put a scare (on campus) for about a week, but that's all," said Kevin Blanford, 17, a senior at the same school.
Seven of the students were arrested at their homes and one was arrested at school Thursday morning as teams of police investigators served arrest warrants for selling amounts of drugs ranging from one-quarter of a gram to one gram to undercover police cadets, McErlain said.
A gram of cocaine, generally the amount that could be consumed by one person in an evening, sells for about $100. Marijuana is usually sold in ounces, for about $50.
Police Cadets Used
Four police cadets, all female and all 19, posed as students enrolled in classes this semester at the city's four high schools: Huntington Beach High; Ocean View High; Edison High, and Marina High. The schools have a combined enrollment of about 11,000 students.
Police withheld the names of seven of the arrested students because they are all juveniles who range in age from 14 to 17.
The eighth student detained in the undercover operation was identified by police as Brian Scott McLeod, 18, a student at Huntington Beach High who was arrested on suspicion of marijuana sales. McLeod was being held Thursday in the Huntington Beach City Jail with bond set at $5,000.
The juveniles, all male, also were booked into the Huntington Beach City Jail, but were remanded later Thursday into the custody of Orange County Juvenile Hall in the City of Orange, McErlain said.
A determination on whether the students will face disciplinary action at school will be made after all are released, Bloch said. The students could be suspended or expelled, he said.
McErlain refused to provide specifics on which schools the individual defendants attended, or on how much and how many times they allegedly sold drugs to the undercover cadets. McErlain said the sales were split about evenly between marijuana and cocaine.
He also would not identify the cadets, other than to say none had ever attended any of the high schools. He said all were given training in undercover work before they started the operation.
McErlain called the undercover operation a "low-key approach, as opposed to a storm trooper approach. We did not put people on the campus and go out and grab kids and ask them to sell drugs." McErlain said the cadets all waited for someone to approach them with an offer of drugs.
Bloch said district officials called in the police to supplement their own efforts to combat drug abuse through education. As part of an ongoing education program, police officers come into the schools to speak about drug abuse, and informal "rap centers" have been set up where students can talk to peers and teachers about any drug or alcohol problems.
Uncertain on Seriousness