Usually, people think it is fine to do whatever is needed to catch “the bad guys”. However, lest we forget, those bad guys have rights.
Sunrise, Florida is the scene of a recent story about the nearly unprecedented lengths to which police will go to catch and arrest drug dealers. The city’s narcotics unit routinely lures lower-echelon drug dealers, also called middle-men, from surrounding areas, then busts them for involvement in illegal activities—activities set up by the police. Of late, the most common of these stings is the sale and purchase of cocaine.
According to local media reports, the Sunrise narcotics division has been trolling online to lure middle-men to Sunrise, community of commuters considered an offshoot of Miami. Police offer to negotiate large purchases of cocaine as bait, then suggest highly public locations like restaurants, including the ubiquitous McDonald’s. Most of those arrested in these stings have not been from the local area. In fact, of the more than 190 arrests for illegal drug purchases, only seven individuals were from Sunrise.
On the surface, many law-abiding Americans might like the idea. However, the dominant goal in these operations may not be the reduction of drug trafficking, but the increase of police overtime pay. Catching middle-men—and not major drug industry figures—has not made an apparent or significant impact on the drug world. Only two arrests and convictions have resulted in 15-year sentences for actual trafficking.
It appears that annual overtime ran anywhere from $240,000 to $630,000 during the 42-month period in which police lured unsuspecting criminals to Sunrise for arrest. In sting operations, police create false circumstances which potential middle-men choose to approach, asking to purchase drugs. In a situation of entrapment, officers approach potential middle-men, offering to sell. And therein lies the heart of the issue: the ethics of operations that result in substantial monetary rewards for police officers, especially when officers create the opportunities themselves. Sting operations are a legal part of police operations; entrapment is not.
Moreover, drug dealers have rights, whether the public likes it or not. Everyone is entitled to a defense; just because an individual has been charged with an offense does not mean he or she is, or will be found guilty of that same offense.
Here is the conundrum: police officers, sworn to uphold the law, protect and serve, are deliberately creating fake situations for alleged drug dealers to purchase cocaine. The police put in overtime to do this work, and they are well-paid for doing it. How do these traps fit within the concept of justice?
Ultimately, they do not. When police begin convincing people to buy an illegal drug, they have crossed a line that those in law enforcement should never cross. The police enforce existing laws. In this case, these setups may even be shaky, pseudo-legal bids to increase the income of officers.
The issues behind drug stings may trigger strong reactions in many, but the community must remember that everyone accused of a crime is entitled to a legal defense. It follows that those who have been lured into illegal activity also deserve a criminal defense. It is an issue worth considering, as this kind of police behavior may spread beyond Sunrise, Florida.
Thomas C .Grajek is a criminal defense lawyer in Tampa, Lakeland, and Polk County Florida. To contact a Polk County DUI lawyer or to learn more, visit http://www.flcrimedefense.com/ or call 863-688-4606.