New York City police officers are targeting heroin and crack addicts in undercover stings, but not the dealers providing their drugs. According to the New York Times, undercover police officers are approaching suspected drug addicts at random and asking for help buying drugs. The officer gives the addict their money and shortly after the addict returns with the drugs, they're arrested on felony drug-dealing charges.
The addicts being targeted by the NYPD are people like 21-year-old Bryan L., who is addicted to heroin, or 55-year-old Reginald J. who is addicted to crack. Bryan is homeless and was approached by an undercover female officer at a McDonald's, where he sat at a table with all of his worldly possessions in two canvas bags. After he purchased $20 of heroin from his dealer and gave it to the undercover officer, he was promptly arrested for drug-dealing, even though he was found with no drugs on his person, and only 84 cents in his pocket.
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Bryan, as well as Reginald J., were both acquitted of their drug charges, but in both cases neither of the undercover officers made any attempt to track down the dealer who from whom the drugs were obtained. In Reginald's case, he had to borrow the undercover officer's cell phone to call the dealer because he didn't have his own phone. During his trial, the arresting officer testified that he couldn't remember whether he had used the dealer's number, which was logged in his phone, to attempt to track the dealer down.
The jury in Bryan L.'s case didn't need more than an hour to acquit him. Many were confused about how the incident had played out. Juror Scott Link told The New York Times, "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. Everyone was scratching their heads, wondering what the heck is wrong with our system."
A spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney's office, Joan Vollero, would not say whether the DA's office thinks these undercover operations are an appropriate way to deal with the city's drug problems, but that often times "addicts who pleaded guilty to felony drug-dealing charges were steered toward treatment instead of prison," reports The Times.