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Another California Police Force Under Fire for Reverse Sting Operations


February 1995

The Berkeley, California police are being criticized for their conduct in reverse sting operations (Yasmin Anwar and William Brand, "Scrutinizing Cops' Tactic in Drug Wars," Oakland Tribune, Jan. 15, 1995, p. A15).

The Alameda County Public Defender's Office is complaining that two reverse sting operations last year were dangerous and constituted entrapment. In reverse stings, officers pose as drug dealers and arrest those who buy drugs from them.

One person nabbed in the Berkeley reverse sting was Robert Early Davis, 47, who paid $1.89 for crack cocaine worth $10. "The guy said he only had $1.89 and the (undercover police) said, 'that's fine,'" said Assistant Public Defender Greg Syren. "I mean, it's one thing to sell the stuff at the going rate, but it's another thing to entice people with prices too good to beat."

"This is a terrible public policy," Public Defender Jay Gaskill said. "The big question the public should be asking is, 'Should police sell drugs?'"

As was reported in the Nov. 1994 issue of NewsBriefs, the Santa Ana, California police are under fire for their practices of manufacturing crack cocaine in the laboratory and then selling it in reverse sting operations ("Santa Ana Police Make Crack to Use in Busts," NewsBriefs, Nov. 1994). The Berkeley police do not manufacture crack cocaine but do use real drugs in the reverse stings.

The Alameda County Sheriff said he does not allow reverse stings. Charles Plummer said he does not want to introduce drugs to the street, so he sends officers out to act like drug dealers. When buyers approach, they are arrested on solicitation charges. He said that if a buyer were to swallow drugs provided by Berkeley officers, the department might be held liable.