If you were raised in the United States in the 1950’s and 1960’s, you were taught to respect authority and your elders. The parish priest, teachers, doctors, firemen and policemen were trustworthy and never did ‘bad’ things. In most cases that was reality. Of course we now know that some priests and teachers committed crimes of a sexual nature, and some doctors developed scams for profit such as overcharging Medicare. We didn’t know many firemen, they only appeared in an emergency. It was not unusual to see a policeman while he patrolled the neighborhood. When we constantly hear about law enforcement which has ‘gone bad;’ about corruption in the police department and our local government, we begin to wonder how much of it existed when we were young.
We have witnessed unrest, protests and even riots on television condemning the actions of police against black men and women in our country. Although not all of the protesters are acting in a proper manner regarding their cause, the reason for the marches is abundantly clear; change is greatly needed.
The latest example of corruption within law enforcement comes from Florida. The Central Florida Internet Crimes Against Children task force used illegal actions in their search for sexual predators. Illegal sting operations were conducted; rules for a valid arrest were broken; and private property was stolen.
An investigation was conducted by a Tampa Bay news station. The conclusion was that many of the men arrested were not searching for children, they were looking for other adults on the internet. Sting operations by the ICAC cajoled some men into committing crimes. It was not unusual to shame these men at a public news conference, even if they had not committed a crime.
Many of these arrests were to boost the numbers of the task force. Many of the cases were subsequently thrown out of court. After the results of the investigation were released, the number of stings, news conferences and arrests have declined.
The private property which was stolen was apparently justified by sections of the Patriot Act. Under Florida’s Contraband Forfeiture Act, property can be seized if an individual is accused of a felonious act. In a January 2014 sting operation, 35 men were arrested and 19 cars were taken by the police and made their own.
Television and the movies have informed the average citizen about sting operations; some extremely intricate. These broadcast shows and movies share a certain commonality; some are successful, and some are not. And some of those arrested through the operations are released because a form of entrapment was employed.
The ethics of sting operations by law enforcement has been highly contested. Such operations can be created to slant the results. One famous example is the ACORN sting. The two participants who operated the sting edited the resulting film and an agency which whose purpose was to aid the poor was forced to close its doors when funding was slashed.
Police in Tallahassee, Florida conducted a sting which ended tragically. In February, 2007 the police pulled a young woman over on a routine traffic stop. Rachel Hoffman had 25 grams of marijuana in her possession. The searched her apartment in April of 2008, and informed her that she would go to prison if she did not help them with a sting operation. She was told to contact two suspected drug traffickers. She was to make arrangements for a large drug transaction, and purchase a gun from the two men. The law enforcement agents lost track of Ms. Hoffman when she left the pre-planned buy area with the two suspects. She was shot and killed with the gun she was supposed to purchase. Her body was found two days later near Perry, Florida.
Law enforcement has lost the respect and trust of tens of millions of Americans. Candidates for positions of the police and sheriff departments of our nation are not properly vetted, and their training is insufficient. Police who often dress in battlefield attire strike fear into many of us instead of confidence.
By James Turnage