The Albuquerque Police Department is in the midst of a 10-month reverse drug sting operation where cops will be selling heroin, cocaine, crack cocaine and methamphetamines to people and then arresting them on drug charges.
The department is engaged in a “Reversal Operation” whereby narcotics officers will be taking up to two pounds of drugs out of APD’s evidence room and selling it to people on the streets. In addition, APD has asked for, and received, permission from a judge to actually manufacture crack cocaine for the operation.
This piece originally appeared on the ABQ Free Press website.
In so-called “normal” sting operations, police attempt to buy drugs from drug dealers. They arrest the dealers one the buy is made. Reverse stings, where police actually sell drugs, target drug users.
The reverse operation has drawn outrage from at least one critic, the city’s former Chief Public Safety Officer Pete Dinelli. “The practice is dangerous and it should be stopped,” Dinelli told ABQ Free Press. “The cops have no business selling dope. They should be seizing drugs, not putting them into the hands of low-level users.”
But APD spokesman Tanner Tixier said that a bust operation last week under the court order netted eight arrests in the Southeast Heights. After those arrests, calls for service in the area went down substantially, Tixier said. And, Tixier said reverse stings are common and that APD tries to do at least one a month.
The order giving APD the OK to go forward with the operation was signed on Feb. 26 by state District Court Judge Nancy Franchini. It was supported by an affidavit by APD Det. Marc Clingenpeel who said that residents across the city have been complaining about being asked to buy drugs from people on the streets.
“Law enforcement has tried many methods and has been unable to effectively stop the supply of drugs to the street dealers and users in these areas,” the affidavit said. “It is believed that taking enforcement action against the purchasers of drugs in these areas, if well known, would reduce the demand for drugs in the City of Albuquerque.”
The affidavit added that police would use up to eight ounces each of cocaine, crack cocaine, heroin and meth as part of the reverse sting operation. “The Albuquerque Police Department’s Narcotics Unit will use the heroin, methamphetamines, crack cocaine and/or cocaine, obtained from the Albuquerque Police Department’s Evidence Unit to sell to individuals who are seeking to purchase drugs within the City of Albuquerque,” the affidavit said.
“Once an individual contacts a detective in an attempt to purchase drugs, the individual will be escorted to a discreet location. The detectives will sell the person the requested amount of drugs, unless the quantity of drugs the person is requesting is larger than is available to the detective. If this occurs, the detective will set up another meeting with the person.”
The affidavit continued: “Once the transaction is completed, the individual purchasing the drugs will be arrested and charged with Felony Possession of a Controlled Substance. The detectives will attempt immediately to retrieve the drugs sold.”
Tixier said that APD does have a license from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to manufacture crack cocaine, but that in 20 years it has never done so. He also said that any drugs used in the operation will be from criminal cases that have ended and where the drugs were scheduled to be destroyed. Any money collected by police from the purchase of the drugs will be tagged into evidence, Tixier said.
The reverse operations are common, Tixier added.
“Without pulling records for exact numbers, our narcotics team tries to do a reversal operation about once a month if possible,” Tixier said. “Also, just for more background, we aren’t required to get an affidavit signed by a judge. We do so as an extra step to make a more robust case. As we spoke about, those drugs are scheduled for destruction.”
Tixier also said that, going back to 1993, APD has never lost any drugs during a reverse sting.
According to the not-for-profit Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, reverse sting operations are common. “The most common technique for sting operations directed at drug dealing in various environments is the reverse sting ‘buy and bust’ (an officer pretends to be a drug dealer and sells to an unsuspecting customer),” the center’s website said.
–Freelance journalist Peter St. Cyr contributed to this story.