We Cannot Let Undercover Cops Trick Students into Selling Marijuana

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April 9, 2014 - By Lynne Lyman and Theshia Naidoo

The Drug Policy Alliance works to keep the spotlight focused on the injustices of the drug war – particularly the case of a 17 year-old special needs student in California who was set up by undercover narcotic officers in a drug sting, in which he and about two dozen other students were arrested in December of 2012.

In the last four years the Riverside (CA) Sheriff’s Department has staged four undercover sting operations in which adult officers, masquerading as high school students, repeatedly pressured students to obtain illegal substances for them. Nearly one hundred students, many of whom were special needs students, have been arrested, expelled, and otherwise had their lives turned upside down.  Most students arrested in the undercover operations did not possess drugs independently, but had to figure out a way to obtain them after being manipulated by undercover officers.  Peer pressure is difficult enough to deal with without adding manipulation by trained law enforcement officers.  

To highlight the atrocities that have gone on in Riverside County high schools and hopefully prevent future ones, my colleague, Theshia Naidoo, and I co-authored an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times to keep the pressure on local officials to do the right thing.

In March, the Drug Policy Alliance sent a letter to 20 school district superintendents in southern California, and all 69 high school principals in Riverside County urging them not to allow undercover law enforcement operations on their campuses. 

Such operations are ineffective at combating drug availability on campus and worse, they inflict irreparable harm on young people struggling with the challenges of adolescence or special needs.  The letter also informed schools about the potential legal liability for allowing such operations on campus.

Building on the efforts of one of the targeted families, DPA will continue to call attention to the problems of school undercover sting operations, which are a central component of the so-called “zero tolerance approach.”

Historically, zero-tolerance programs not only fail to produce the results they promise but also contribute significantly to the “school-to-prison pipeline.” The zero-tolerance approach disproportionately impacts youth of color and special needs students, and this misguided philosophy has swelled the juvenile justice and prison systems over the past two decades.

Lynne Lyman is the California state director for the Drug Policy Alliance.
Theshia Naidoo is a senior staff attorney at the Drug Policy Alliance.

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