Monday, January 14, 2002
Undercover Officers Arrest 136 Drug Dealers at Local High Schools
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Undercover officers posing as students at local high schools arrested 136 drug dealers in the past year in an attempt to rid campuses of illegal drug use, Chief Bernard Parks said Friday.
Through the Los Angeles Police Department’s School Buy program, a special partnership between the Los Angeles Unified School District and the department, undercover officers last year bought drugs on and around area high school campuses 227 times from 162 different dealers.
Officers attended class and mingled with students for a semester at a time to learn who was buying and using drugs at the school and where dealers could be found. Dealers included both students and non-students and police are still pursing the remaining 26 dealers involved in the sting operation.
“This is the most effective way we have to prevent drug sales on campus,” Captain Charlie Beck of Juvenile Division said.
The School Buy program has been part of the LAPD’s involvement on campuses since 1974. Undercover officers have made drug purchases from over 8,300 suspected drug dealers and the program has seized over $7.7 million in drugs since its creation.
Willie Crittendon, LAUSD Administrator of School Operations, said the program has been a tremendous deterrent on the district’s campuses.
“We need to do everything possible to get drugs off our campuses,” Crittendon said.
Marijuana was the drug of choice for most students, undercover officers said, but cocaine, LSD, ecstasy, methamphetamine, mushrooms, and prescription drugs were also bought by officers from dealers.
Drug use is rampant on area high school campus, Dolores Martinez, a 25-year-old undercover officer, said.
“It’s wide open,” Martinez said. “The second day I was there I saw these kids rolling it into a joint and smoking it on campus.”
Officer Jason Azpeita told of walking into campus restrooms and regularly seeing two or three kids “smoking out” with a marijuana pipe or a joint. And drug use wasn’t relegated to one class, age or sex, officers said.
“It’s everybody,” Azpeita said.
In preparation for the assignment, officers drive around their assigned campus to see what students are wearing and how they act. The officers attend classes at their assigned school for an entire semester, buying drugs and getting information on dealers from their fellow students.
“It’s an act,” Martinez said. “You have to act as a child. You have to act at their level.”
But the undercover job is not without its own pitfalls, as Martinez recounted getting caught ditching class while trying to follow a drug dealer after class had started.
When asked if they had to actually do the drugs they bought to not blow their cover, the officers said their training enabled them to talk their way out the situation.
“He’s from the DARE program,” Chief Bernard Parks quipped. “He just says no.”
Almost 40 percent of the drug transactions take place inside the classroom while class is in session, Officer San Miguel Arana said.
And the amount of money spent on campus drug sales can vary anywhere from five dollars up to as much as $160, he said.
In order to avoid getting a phone call from the department saying their child has been busted for drugs, officers suggested that parents be more involved with their children’s activities and know how they are getting and spending their money.
“Parents play a big part in how their kids are going to be,” Azpeita said.
Parks cautioned that the program, while effective, is not a silver bullet in curing the drug problem.
“Campuses are not separate entities,” Parks said. “They reflect what’s in the communities. If they’re smoking on campus, they’re smoking at home, before and after school, and on the way to work.”
Police officials declined to comment on how widespread and on how many officers are assigned to the program.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company