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Monday, October 14, 2013

When You Walk the Line, It Is Easy to Step Over

Fox News reports that the Sunrise, Florida, police department, police officers, and their "informants" have been making very good money luring buyers of illegal drugs from various areas of the country, and then seizing the buyers' cash, cars, and other property. 
According to a six-month investigation by the Sun Sentinel, undercover detectives in Sunrise, Fla., seized millions of dollars from the drug stings, offering cash rewards for the confidential informants who help police attract faraway buyers, including paying one informant more than $800,000 over the past five years.
... In one instance, a sergeant running the stings collected more than $240,000 in overtime during a three-and-a-half year period. 
In a review of payroll data, the Sun Sentinel found a dozen narcotics officers since 2010 have collectively earned $1.2 million in overtime pay. 
Police in Sunrise have been conducting what are known as “reverse stings” for years, according to the Sun Sentinel, and over the past two years have netted $5.8 million in seized money. 
"They can take their cars, jewelry," Sun Sentinel reporter Megan O’Matz, who broke the story with colleague John Maines, told ABC News. "One fella told us a cop said, 'Hey, I like the sunglasses you're wearing,' and snatched them, so there is a real profit motive for the police."
 One informant received over $800,000 over the past 5 years.

Sting operations are problematic to the extent that police, or the informants, often are pressuring the person into committing the illegal act. Nevertheless, properly run, I believe such operations are a valid method of law enforcement. What is disturbing about this is that the officers in this case have turned it into a business, and exceeded their mandate to protect locals.

First, we have officers that are obviously financially benefiting from these arrests, with all the concomitant problems of corruption. According to the article, at least one officer apparently stole sunglasses (if the property was subject to seizure, he stole it from the department; and if it wasn't subject to seizure, he stole it from the perp). Who knows what else has disappeared between the scene of the arrest and the evidence locker. And, given the overtime involved, I have to wonder if their time is being scrutinized and properly incurred.

Second, these officers are supposed to be tasked with protecting the local community, but instead actively encourage criminals to come into the area. Moreover, as is clear from the amount of overtime payed for these cases, they are concentrating on these profitable cases over more mundane tasks such as investigating local robberies, assaults, etc. If these officers want to be bounty hunters or DEA agents, then let them go and do that job, but hire officers that place the local community's needs first.

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