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NYPD Undercover Stings Target Impoverished Addicts But Not Their Dealers

By May Wilkerson 04/06/16

For the targeted addicts, any opportunity to get cash was difficult to resist due to their drug dependence and financial strain. 

NYPD Undercover Stings Target Impoverished Addicts But Not Their Dealers
Photo via Shutterstock/Straight 8 Photography

The NYPD has been going after the most low-level offenders in NYC’s drug trade, often using undercover stings, the New York Times reported yesterday. The targets of these operations are often impoverished, addicted customers, like 21-year-old homeless heroin addict Brian L. and 55-year-old crack addict Reginald J., who were profiled in the story.

Both men, in separate instances, were approached by undercover NYPD officers posing as fellow drug users who asked them for help buying drugs. Both Reginald and Brian took the money, purchased $20 or $40 worth of crack or heroin from a dealer, and gave the drugs to the officers, who then arrested them on felony drug-dealing charges. After going to trial, both men were acquitted.

For these men, any opportunity to get cash was difficult to resist due to their drug dependence and financial strain. “For him to put the money in my hands, as an addict, let me tell you what happens,” Reginald J. told the Times. “I like to think I could resist it, but I’m way beyond that. My experience has shown me that 1,000 times out of 1,000 times, I will be defeated.”

Brian L., who is homeless, said that the undercover officer told him she was staying with her grandmother in Brooklyn and was worried she would soon go into withdrawal. “I said I would help her,” he testified. She gave him $20, which he used to go buy two bags of heroin. After he gave her the drugs, he was arrested, with less than a dollar in change and zero drugs in his possession. There were nine police officers involved in the operation, none of whom followed Brian to see who he purchased the drugs from. This is reportedly a common theme in these NYPD operations.

The cases of Reginald, Brian, and two others mentioned in the story raise “troubling questions about the fairness and effectiveness of the way the Police Department uses undercover officers,” the Times reports. In both cases, officers arrested the drug users who acted as “go-between” while making no attempt to go after the higher-level dealer who sold them the drugs.

Defense lawyers and juries have criticized the NYPD’s tactics, and the way prosecutors have pursued these cases. For example, in one letter to prosecutors, jurors questioned why troubled, impoverished addicts would be the target of such aggressive police action and legal prosecution.

“The big underlying question is why a nine-person buy-and-bust team did not follow him to the dealer where he got it from,” said one juror in Brian’s trial, Scott Link. “Everyone was scratching their heads, wondering what the heck is wrong with our system.”

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.

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