The Washngton, D.C., police department is quietly turning to high-risk sting operations in which undercover officers recruit people they think are likely to commit armed robberies, reports the Washington Post. The scenarios dreamed up by law enforcement officials, some involving the lure of liquor and strip clubs, are designed to put violent offenders in jail and to address a dangerous crime. The law enforcement tactic mimics controversial FBI operations that targeted would-be terrorists after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Similar sting operations conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have drawn rebukes from federal judges in California for “outrageous” government conduct.
In the past two years, the D.C. police stings have resulted in convictions of more than a dozen men in federal court. The tactic has overcome the few legal challenges it has faced in the District but has prompted harsh criticism. Defense attorneys and some legal experts have asked whether the police should be encouraging people to commit crimes they might not have otherwise committed by providing invented opportunities and, in some cases, guns and getaway cars. Critics ask how law enforcement officials can distinguish between someone who is just “puffing” and someone who intends to carry out a crime. Law enforcement officials say they typically identify their targets through police sources and review their history before going after them. “We have to feel comfortable and confident that these are bad guys, the guys we want,” said Cmdr. Melvin Scott of the narcotics and special investigations division. “We're not pressing these guys. They are boldly stating their job experience.”