Drug Probe in Fountain Valley : 8 Seized After ‘Narcs’ Penetrate Two Schools
For a long drug investigation that involved two undercover “narcs,” the yield was meager: eight people arrested--seven of them juveniles--and charged with drug sales ranging from one marijuana cigarette to $40 worth of cocaine.
But the two young agents who spent three months posing as trouble-making students at two Fountain Valley high schools insisted Wednesday that the effort was justified. The purpose of the operation, they said, was deterrence.
“It’ll get around real quick, and maybe they’ll be more careful next time,” said Debbie (not her real name), a 23-year-old police academy graduate recruited by Fountain Valley police because of her youthful appearance.
Debbie, who went under cover at Fountain Valley High School, said she has no guilt or remorse about being a “narc.” The effort was worthwhile, she said, if it keeps just one person from getting started on drugs.
She and her colleague, “Jack,” 20, who worked at nearby Los Amigos High, both said they were glad the operation was over, but added they would have no qualms about repeating their roles as “students” to gather information about drug users and dealers.
The eight arrests were made by Fountain Valley officers Wednesday morning. All but one of the suspects, an 18-year-old Santa Ana resident who was booked into Orange County Jail, were taken to Juvenile Hall. Detectives said warrants are still to be served on three other suspects who have apparently moved.
The use of undercover agents is nothing new for Fountain Valley’s two high schools. Eighteen students were arrested during such a sweep in 1981.
And the concept isn’t new for several other county school districts. A survey of the 15 districts with high schools showed that seven have used undercover officers at some time. Three had never done so, while information was unavailable from the other five.
Jack said he was proud of his role in the operation. “My parents asked me about that the other night --'How are you going to feel when people call you a narc?’ “he said. “I’ll say, ‘Thanks for the compliment.’ ”
Both agreed that their primary motivation for accepting the task was to enhance their employment prospects. “That’s why I did it,” Jack said.
Debbie and Jack were ordered to behave as badly as possible, said their boss, Lt. Richard Davenport, because detectives believed that would help them become accepted among the dealers. They did no homework, and frequently made trouble in class. Jack behaved so incorrigibly that he was suspended for a while midway through the quarter.
Grade reports mailed to the Fountain Valley Police Department indicated all-round academic failure. A detective fielded several calls from teachers and counselors on a phone line reserved for the operation, pretending to be an uncooperative uncle.
Only a few school administrators knew who they were. Both said they began their semesters by sitting quietly in class and watching the other students, making connections slowly.
“You might talk to someone a couple of times so they knew your face,” Debbie said. When the time seemed right to finally mention drugs, she said, “I just jumped into a conversation . . . and asked if anybody knew where to get some pot. It was easy after that.”
After the arrests, students at both high schools said they generally supported police action to curb student drug dealing, but many added that they opposed the use of undercover agents.
“It’s OK if you like being spied on,” said Bill Edwards, 17, a Fountain Valley High student who used a pair of expletives to describe the narcs. “I think there are a lot bigger people they should be going after. There will still be plenty of kids using drugs.”
Another Fountain Valley High student, Laura Hardy, 17, said she wouldn’t mind the police repeating the ploy in future semesters. “Somebody’s got to clean it up. I don’t like having drugs here,” she said.
At Los Amigos, senior class president Sean Erenstoft, 17, said he supports the undercover program but wonders how successful it is. “What I’d like to know is why people get busted and (the narcotics) are still available,” he said. “Tomorrow, there are going to be just as many parties with the same stuff available, just different people. What’s really of concern is the accessibility.”
Andy Evans, 17, another Los Amigos student, said, “It seems kind of underhanded but I guess something had to be done.
Problem Believed Minor
“I don’t think there’s any big problem here,” he added. “There’s some. On any campus there’s going to be some drugs.”
Two Los Amigos teachers responded supportively when asked how they felt about having a police officer in their classrooms.
Music and English teacher Hank Alviani said he didn’t consider the action in any way illegal. “What galls me about that is that the people who are doing the crimes are doing everything in secret,” he said. “So how else can you get the evidence? I certainly don’t have any objections.”
Auto shop teacher Gene Le Clerc invited further on-campus surveillance. “I wish there was a law-enforcement representative around all the time. It’s too big a problem for the teachers to handle,” he said.
Teachers Kept in Dark
No teachers or non-administrative employees were informed of the operation at either school. One school security guard had to be let in on it after Debbie was picked up for being off-campus without a pass while heading to a drug deal. “Actual on-campus dealing is quite rare,” Jack said.
The agents were given schedules that allowed them to leave school at lunchtime and an older girlfriend and boyfriend were invented to explain their non-participation in parties or off-campus activities.
There were a few moments at the start when Debbie and Jack were afraid their cover might be blown.
“There were a lot of little things,” Debbie said. “Before we started, they told us to take everything out of our cars, but I forgot about a handcuff key on my key ring. I told them it was a key to a diary and they seemed to believe that.”
The most tense moment for Jack came on his first trip to buy drugs. “The first time, they asked me where I lived,” he said. “So I told them, ‘that way, down First.’ We actually did have a fake address but it was in a commercial district.” In addition, he said, his short hair made some people suspicious at first.
Fountain Valley narcotics detectives said it’s almost certain that narcs will return to the high schools, perhaps next year. Said Los Amigos principal Andrew McTaggart: “If one guy is making a buck off it, that’s the guy I want to go after. If we have problems, I will not hesitate to do this again.”