The image of the Police Officer has cast a shadow of doubt over many United States citizens. Some of this can be attributed to popular culture through music, movies, and television, much attributed due to despicable people apart of every mass of people, but certainly, tactics and operations exerted by many police departments give many citizens a reason to detest them. Of the countless ploys some departments run, one particularly awful tactic is the practice of sending “Narcs” posing as students to high school campuses in an effort to find drug dealers inside schools to prosecute. But in doing so, often times they decide to hunt the easy prey. Police departments must cease using entrapment operations as a means of “fighting drugs in our schools,” because they unfairly target children who have a mental handicap.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) studied in 2006 that 64 percent of local jail inmates, 56 percent of state prisoners and 45 percent of federal prisoners have symptoms of serious mental illness. Detailing each and every problem these numbers are caused by would certainly be tiresome. However, police departments that use entrapment tactics definitely fluff these numbers up. “In criminal law, entrapment is a tactic whereby a law enforcement agent induces a person to commit a criminal offense that the person would have otherwise been unlikely to commit” (Vice). This process is where police officers entrench themselves into high schools, posing as students of the school. Officers involved must learn to perform as the character of a student, and follow leads to find the drug dealers on campus, where they arrest later on felony charges. This plan initially seemed like a decent way of going about getting the drugs out of our schools, until it proved opposite.
A story that caught national attention was the arrest of Jesse Snodgrass, an autistic student, along with 9 other “special needs” kids out of 24 arrested in a single drug bust sting in Temecula, California 2012. The police department had expected results of the officers who were posing as students. In turn, to please their superiors, the officers had to deliver. Instead of finding threats of drug distribution on the campus, officers thought to trick students into giving them drugs. Knowing the situations of many of students, it was easy for them to decide who easy targets would be, particularly, special needs students. One well-known figure in this case was Jesse Snodgrass, an autistic boy. After becoming friends, the officer hounded Jesse for weeks to get him drugs. Jesse used the man’s $20 to buy 0.6 grams of marijuana off of a homeless man. Jesse was later arrested and charged with two felonies. The officer was well aware of Jesse’s condition, and knew he could be manipulated. A friend of mine from a pool services company in Walnut Creek knew Jesse before this happened. He told me “he was a changed person, this really affected how he communicated with people and you could tell he had a tough time trusting new people in his life.” The performance this officer played was a success for the community as it was advertised by news networks as, “24 Students Arrested in Riverside County Drug Bust.” (NBCLA) Most people really believe that since police officers are the enforcers of the law, they are following a certain set of moral beliefs whilst performing on the job. Take this belief, and compare it with a paper written by Nicolas Chown, “Do you have any difficulties that I may not be aware of?’ A study of autism awareness and understanding in the UK police service.” Chown does a study looking into the treatment of autistic people by police officers. “Unless police respond appropriately to them a person with autism may suffer extreme stress, officers will be unable to do their job effectively, disability discrimination legislation may be breached, and there will be a risk to the safety of the person with autism and to the officer(s)” (Chown 4) He argues that police officers must learn how to treat and handle autistic individuals when making contact, otherwise, poor actions can lead to potential distress for these individuals. In the case of Jesse Snodgrass, he still suffers PTSD today from this incident. His parents say it tears him up inside, and they are now taking a stand along with many others in the community in combating this dilemma. They believe that, rather than help these kids rid their school of drugs, officers deceived students like Jesse Snodgrass into handing them drugs for the sole purpose of getting an easy arrest.
Operations like this have become popular in popular media over the years. Entrapment stings make for an interesting story, and bring fast results when targeting submissive people like those with mental disabilities. The officers put on a performance that interests many, hence inspiring popular tv show turned movie 21 Jump Street, which became a major hit across the United States. Because of the popularity of these tactics, it brings interest to the mainstream culture. “The two key characteristics of popular discrimination are, therefore, those of relevance and productivity and, even though we may separate them for analytical purposes, in practice they are almost indistinguishable. (Fiske 216)” The news media, tv industry, and movies, by popularizing this technique, and by doing so, make entrapment a relevant performance. And by targeting children with mental disabilities, it gets productive results. So although people may now understand, it becomes normal for them to see things like this happen in the media, and not think much of it other than our cops being productive in the field. But think about it this way. You have an adult, with many more years of life experience and adulthood, psychological training in the police academy, and a purpose to get arrests. It does not seem rational to place children in the position to be manipulated by the very men and women who they grew up believing were the heroes of society.
The officers should be able to identify these were not people representing the type of criminals they wanted behind bars and should seek to change their policy for the betterment of the American people. Recognizing poor actions when it is presented and acting on them is something most of us can at least respect. Police departments get paid more by the federal government for more arrests, I think many in society would like this changed, due to the fact that today, some police departments have realized their monetary desires are more important than the fair and equal treatment of the citizens they swore to protect. Fiske touches on this topic in his article “Popular Discrimination.” “Popular culture in our society is made by the various formations of the people at the interface between the products of capitalism and everyday life. But the products of capitalism always exceed the needs of the people” (John Fiske, Popular Discrimination 215-216). The Temecula county police department, sadly, represents this concept. By performing the morally egregious practices of targeting the mentally disabled in our schools to make a profit, this group of officers is damaging the society and going against the needs of the people. The principal, and nastiest way to discriminate against people, is to choose capitalist desires over moral virtues.
As humans have shown over their history of humankind, we are always learning. Some ideas that once seem like they could help society can get proven wrong with facts, and we must use our moral compass based on the facts at hand and decide what is right. The media portrayal of entrapment has come to light in American culture, and now people are becoming more and more aware of the ongoing tribulations involved with our law enforcement. Getting rid of entrapment techniques is just one step necessary to bringing back a positive image for our police, pushing us closer to a harmonious society.
Chown, Nicholas. “Do You Have Any Difficulties That I May Not Be Aware Of? A Study of
Autism Awareness and Understanding In the UK police service. 25 Aug 2009
Fiske, John. “Popular Discrimination.” Indiana University Press 1991
VICE. “Undercover Cop Tricks Autistic Student into Selling Him Weed.”Youtube. N.p., 16 July 2016. Web.