ALHAMBRA — An undercover drug operation by two police officers posing as high school students has led to the arrest of at least 15 students and three non-students at Alhambra and San Gabriel high schools.
During the 11-week operation, the first of its kind in the Alhambra School District, the undercover officers made 36 drug purchases, totaling $800 worth of marijuana, cocaine and a small quantity of LSD, according to the Alhambra Police Department.
The only suspect identified by police last week was 19-year-old Joseph E. Kuresa of Alhambra, who was being held in Alhambra City Jail. He is scheduled to be arraigned Monday in Alhambra Municipal Court on charges of selling drugs.
The identities of the other suspects, who are juveniles, were withheld.
Alhambra Police Chief Joe Malloy called the operation a success, promising more undercover operations at the district's four high schools, which have a combined enrollment of 9,800 students.
"We are satisfied we identified those who were most responsible for dealing on campus," he said. "We will continue with our efforts."
Supt. Bruce H. Peppin and Dora Padilla, president of the Alhambra school board, hailed the arrests as an aggressive step to control drug dealing.
"Drugs are a difficult problem and we want to get the word out that dealing will not be tolerated," Padilla said. "If someone wants to deal drugs, they're going to have to find another gutter.
"This is a definite message to pushers that if they're selling drugs, the next person they talk to may be an undercover police officer," Padilla said.
Peppin said he was encouraged that the number of arrests was relatively low and no district employees were found to be involved in drug sales.
Several Alhambra High School students also said they were happy with the results of the operation.
Although some were concerned about having police officers in their midst, most supported the department's efforts to arrest drug dealers.
"It's great," said 16-year-old junior Jason Lopez. "It gets everyone out of here who shouldn't be here."
The investigation, which was unanimously supported by the school board, began in September when the two officers enrolled as students in the district.
Malloy said Alhambra High School was selected because of persistent rumors that outsiders were selling drugs on campus. San Gabriel High School was selected because of strong staff support for the operation.
Malloy said the two male officers are in their early 20s and come from a different San Gabriel Valley police department. "They look like babies," he said.
Over an 11-week period, the officers bought drugs from 13 individuals at Alhambra High School and seven at San Gabriel High School.
The 18 suspects were arrested in a sweep that began early Thursday morning. Two other suspects were expected to be arrested Friday.
Malloy said the alleged dealers ranged from those who just wanted to be "big shots" on campus to others who could provide large quantities of drugs on a daily basis.
"Some of them were making pretty good money," he said.
But he added the officers found no indication of organized drug dealing on either campus. "They were basically free-lance people," he said. "There wasn't any cartel."
The officers, who have returned to their own police department, found that the only drugs sold on campus were marijuana, cocaine and LSD. "If it was available, we bought it," Malloy said.
Malloy said the investigation shattered the perception in the community that "drugs are running rampant."
"Much to our delight, drugs were not sold all over campus," he said. "There are over 6,000 students at the schools." To end up with only 20 arrests "is a small percentage of the total," he said.