Vice Squad
Thursday, April 28, 2005
High School Infiltrator Update

A few weeks ago we mentioned the case of Milford High School in Ohio, which had 16 current students and 1 recent graduate arrested on drug selling charges. The arrests all came from a sting operation, the brainstorm of the District Superintendent. This brilliantly-conceived operation involved placing a recent college graduate in the school to pose as a student. After she was acclimated to the environment, she would ferret out drug trafficking by making it known that she was interested in buying some drugs. Voila', seventeen arrests! All sixteen of the current students who were arrested were expelled! A phenomenally clever piece of law enforcement.

Now they have their first conviction! Oh, they must be so proud.
The teen said he called another student to help the undercover officer find some marijuana after she called him several times. He said he and the student, along with another, delivered an eighth of an ounce to the agent near the school last September for $60.
Let me lay out some of my objections to this undercover operation. (I sent a version of these to a columnist who wrote about the case last week.) First, no one thinks that high school kids should be taking or selling illegal drugs, of course -- but that does not mean that all measures taken to limit such activity are sensible. The direct monetary costs of $60,000 could have been spent on, well, $60,000 worth of useful stuff. On those grounds alone, I think, this operation is questionable, and surely at some level of monetary costs such a sting becomes a bad idea.

The false pretences under which the informant attended the school also are troubling to me. (They will also prove troubling to the next few "new kids" who start attending Milford and nearby high schools, I imagine.) To do her job, this person had to establish friendships, and perhaps even develop strong emotional ties, with students, all the while misleading them as to her real purposes and intentions. It is easy for me to imagine that the students who befriended her feel betrayed, even if they had nothing to do with the drug operation. And of course, the same feelings of betrayal might surface in her teachers, who graded her papers and worked with her only to find out that her "studenting" was all a sham. (Even the school's principal was not told of the deception.) If one of my current students turned out to be taking my class under such false pretences, I would certainly not be pleased.

The main other issue, it seems to me, is that the penalties for drug sales sometimes can be very severe, even for extremely minor activities. Some of the arrested students did not sell her drugs, but are accused of having somehow led her to a connection -- this was the case of the first student convicted, apparently. Such behavior in previous cases has resulted in many years in prison. Will this operation be a success if we learn that one of the students that the informant befriended eventually acceded to multiple solicitations by introducing the informant to someone the student thought might be able to find drugs for her -- and now gets to spend years in prison for the favor to his or her 'friend'? Even if we are happy to send convicted students down the river, we might want to pity the informant, who will have to live with her role in this affair when she is too old to pass for a high school student.

Only five of the seventeen folks arrested were charged as adults, so that should help to keep the penalties low. Further, the charges against three of the "adults" were dismissed -- though of course, prosecutors hope to have them reinstated. But how many of these seventeen were really bad actors, people whom the school is better off without? My guess is very few -- after all, it should have been possible to round up the real troublemakers without an 8-month undercover investigation. So what we have is a bunch of kids badly damaged, $60,000 in education funds drained, numerous trusts betrayed, and all for....?

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