Semester-Long Drug Op Busts So. Cal High School Students

By McCarton Ackerman 12/19/13

Despite being around for decades, the policy of cops posing as high school students has remained controversial.

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Two Southern California narcotics officers who posed as high school students for an entire semester busted 25 students for possession of and selling drugs. Twenty-two arrest warrants were served last week on the campuses of Paloma Valley and Perris High School, while three suspects weren’t in school that day and are still at large. Two of the 22 students arrested, Serina Ramirez and Erick De La Cruz, were adults and booked into a local detention center; the remaining minors were booked into juvenile hall.

Although most of the drug buys were for small amounts of marijuana, deputies also seized drugs including crack cocaine, meth and various prescription pills. The sheriff’s department had approached the school district last year to propose the undercover operation, which was quickly approved. “This is a very well-researched program. The people in it are all professionals,” said Jonathan Greenberg, superintendent of the Perris Union High School District. “It was a question of what we could do to assist them.”

Although cops posing as high school students has been around for decades within California schools, the program has met with controversy. The LAPD discontinued their program in 2005 after police typically only found small amounts of pot and were increasingly arresting students in special education programs. A lawsuit was also filed last year against the Temecula Valley Unified School District after a special needs student with autism was arrested in the drug busts.

Lt. Paul Bennett, who oversaw the Paloma and Perris drug busts, said the officers involved received additional training about special needs students and how to avoid entrapment, ensuring that all of those arrested this time were “mainstream students” in general education classes. He also planned to move forward with plans to bring drug-sniffing dogs to campuses in the future.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.