Drug Arrests Send a Message to San Diego Students
High school students in San Diego were wondering two things as the end of the school year approached: What would they do on their summer vacation and who would be arrested before the year was out.
It turned out this week that it was 22 students at Point Loma High who fell victim to a youthful narcotics officer who posed as a pot-smoking student for five months.
Sixteen were pulled out of class by school officials and taken to the cafeteria where they were arrested on charges that they sold drugs.
Point Loma joined six other schools that have been the target of large-scale arrests at city schools during the past two years.
“We vary these times so we don’t set a pattern,” said Lt. Anthony DiCerchio, commander of the narcotics unit. “With summer break coming up, everyone was expecting a school to fall.”
The arrest total was small compared to the first two raids, which took place in January, 1984, at Patrick Henry and Hoover high schools. A total of 115 students were rounded up in those operations.
Forty-three students were arrested last May at Morse and Mira Mesa highs. Last Feb. 28, 53 students from San Diego High and Morse High were picked up.
In each case, a young police officer enrolled in high school, went to class, made friends and bought drugs.
A patrolman manning the front desk at Western Division, where the Point Loma suspects were being booked, said the identities of the operatives were known to almost no one, not even the officers who patrol the neighborhoods around the schools.
That, said DiCerchio, is the idea. It seems to have caused some students to think twice about peddling drugs to strangers.
“I think the numbers show it is having a long-term effect,” DiCerchio said. “When our officers go on campus, they find a great deal of paranoia, even if no one (an undercover agent) has been on campus.”
Critics, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, don’t like the idea of police spies spreading anxiety in what should be an educational setting.
“We definitely feel it’s inappropriate for an educational setting,” said Greg Marshall, legal director for the ACLU San Diego chapter. “Part of the problem is the way it is conducted in San Diego. It really amounts to the police contributing to the delinquency of a minor.”
The agents, Marshall said, may be guilty of entrapment if they go out and ask schoolyard chums to sell them narcotics.
“The police use it as a public relations device,” Marshall said. “They send officers into the schools with the idea of making as many arrests as possible.”
He pointed out that only modest amounts of drugs have been seized.
The ACLU has been considering legal action, based on violation of the right to privacy and freedom of association. Marshall said nothing had been done yet because the organization didn’t have a strong enough case to take to court.
DiCerchio said his officers did not have to hound anyone into selling them drugs. Despite the arrests at other schools, some entrepreneur is always willing to make a deal with the new kid, he said.
“Some times these kids are so eager to sell, they (the agents) have to avoid them,” DiCerchio said.