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Santa Ana Police Make Crack to Use in Busts


November 1994

The Santa Ana, California Police Department is defending its practice of manufacturing crack cocaine in police labs for use in drug sting operations, a practice that until recently has been kept a secret (Lee Romney and Kevin Johnson, "Police Crime Lab Making Cocaine for Drug Busts," Los Angeles Times, Oct. 21, 1994, p. 1).

Defense attorneys in Orange County are attempting to stop these operations, which they and other law enforcement experts say are dangerous. Police are using the manufactured crack in "reverse sting" operations in which officers pose as drug dealers and arrest those that purchase drugs from them. The display of drugs by undercover police officers is a common tactic in reverse stings. However, departments rarely manufacture the drugs and introduce them into communities. Reverse stings typically use drugs seized in raids.

A similar operation was halted in Broward County, Florida after the state Supreme Court upheld a ruling that found the reverse stings there illegal. Hundreds of cases were reversed. "It is incredible that law enforcement's manufacture of an inherently dangerous controlled substance, like crack cocaine, can ever be for the public's safety," the court said.

Santa Ana police take cocaine that has been seized in busts and cook it into crack cocaine. Lab technicians add a coating that rubs off on the skin of any person who touches the drug. That coating shows up only under a black light and helps police nab suspects who drop or swallow the drug.

Over the course of the operation, police have arrested about 350 people, a large portion of those within a few blocks of Willard Intermediate School in Santa Ana. "We're not playing games here," Police Chief Paul M. Walters said. "We're trying to give the streets back to the residents and we're making progress."

Public Defender Dean Allen said that he knows of two juveniles who were arrested in the stings. "If they want to keep kinds away from drugs, I think there are probably a lot of better ways to do it than just to sell them the drugs," he said.

Some police officials agree, and warn that the practice can be dangerous. "I'd hate to be the department that permits this to happen, and it turns out that somebody overdoses or has a heart attack," said Gerald Arenberg, executive director of the National Association of Chiefs of Police in Washington, DC.

According to Santa Ana police officials, no one has been injured in the sting operations, but some buyers have taken the drugs before they were arrested.