A fresh-faced police officer posed as a high school student in Millington, Tn., for four months. The “student” attended classes, took exams, did homework, tolerated cafeteria food — and allegedly bought drugs from other students. Memphis Commercial Appeal columnist Otis Sanford says the sting ended this month with the arrest of 13 students on charges of selling marijuana, Ecstasy and prescription drugs. The charges also included peddling fake drugs as if they were the real thing.
The tactic has been used effectively around the country for years. Police in Los Angeles did it for 30 years before disbanding the program in 2004 amid heavy criticism because kids in special education were being targeted. Memphis prosecutor Bill Gibbons was notified beforehand of the Millington school sting. “I thought it was appropriate,” Gibbons said, noting that schools are designated as drug-free zones. E. Winslow “Buddy” Chapman of Crimestoppers of Memphis and Shelby County, was less enthusiastic. Chapman believes the practice is not a long-term answer to fighting criminal behavior at school. “You can put undercover officers in schools until you’re blue in the face, but only the students really know what’s going on,” he says. Better answers, he insists, are found in programs such as Trust Pays, the Crimestoppers initiative that offers cash rewards to students who anonymously report criminal activity to school officials.