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POLICE WATCH : Going Too Far

October 21, 1994

When police officers impersonate criminals, large questions arise. Are the police wrongly entrapping someone, luring an otherwise law-abiding person into committing a crime? Are they strictly accounting for all the money or drugs they use as bait? Are supervisors monitoring the operations to ensure they will stand up in court and result in convictions?

The Santa Ana Police Department unfortunately has introduced an additional issue into the so-called "reverse stings," in which officers pose as criminals. The department has been taking powder cocaine seized in arrests to the Orange County Crime Laboratory, run by the Sheriff's Department. There it is cooked into "rocks" before being given back to the police. Undercover officers then sell $10 or $20 worth to drug users and arrest them.

Other police departments in the area, including San Diego and Los Angeles, rightly avoid manufacturing drugs, an action that ultimately puts an illegal substance into the hands of someone who otherwise might not have it. There are dangers of a drug overdose abetted by law enforcement.

The Florida Supreme Court correctly said it was "incredible" to think that police manufacture of a dangerous substance like cocaine could benefit public safety.

Some Orange County police agencies reported good results in snaring drug buyers with phony cocaine--ranging from macadamia nuts to crushed drywall. Rather than offering the real thing on the streets, Santa Ana police would be better off adopting a similar tactic in the worthwhile fight against drugs.

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