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LAPD Finding Fewer Campus Drugs : Narcotics: The undercover ‘school buy’ program encounters short supplies. ‘Winning our war,’ Gates says.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

For the first time in the 17-year history of the Los Angeles Police Department’s high school undercover drug program, young officers posing as high school students had a hard time doing their job, police said.

Not only was it harder to find drugs to buy on campus this semester, some students tried to talk the undercover officers out of using them. Officer Sonia Caballero, 22, who spent the semester trying to buy drugs at Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights, said students advised her not to get involved with drugs. Others told her they “don’t like to associate with people who use drugs.”

In what police officials interpret as a possible turn in the drug tide on high school campuses across the city, the eight officers assigned to the department’s semiannual “school buy” program all said they encountered kids who tried to talk them out of using drugs.

Police Chief Daryl F. Gates said this was “the very first time” in the program’s history that officers encountered such treatment on campus. “I feel we are moving toward winning our war on drugs (on the campuses),” he said.

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Gates said campus drug activity has been steadily declining since the early 1970s, when the school buy program made as many as 300 drug purchases a semester. This spring, Caballero and the other undercover officers made about 165 drug purchases from 139 dealers at nine city high schools.

In announcing the results at a news conference Friday, Gates attributed the decline in part to the program’s notoriety, saying students are more leery about purchasing drugs on campus. This, he added, is the whole purpose of the program. “I want students to look around and worry about using drugs at school,” he said.

While a few years ago Gates estimated that perhaps 80% of students at city high schools used drugs, he said that number appears to have declined significantly. Caballero said her impression was that only about three or four students out of every 10 at Roosevelt use drugs.

Other high schools targeted in the recent operation were North Hollywood, University, Van Nuys, Venice, Marshall, Manual Arts, Locke and Birmingham. The level of drug activity was about the same at all the schools, said Lt. Bud Harper, who heads the department’s juvenile narcotics section.

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Marijuana remains the most common drug on campus, but cocaine also is readily available, police said. Officers seized nearly $10,000 worth of drugs, including LSD, amphetamines and psilocybin, a hallucinogenic.

Gates said that 120 suspects have been arrested since May 7 and that more arrests are anticipated.

The number of arrests fluctuates from year to year but generally has been on the decline, figures show.

While the program has been effective in squeezing drug activity on campus, there has been a corresponding surge in activity in the surrounding neighborhoods over the past several years, Harper said.

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This year, for instance, about a third of the dealers uncovered in the sting operation were adults. Many of them sold drugs off campus.

In two cases, undercover officers infiltrated rock cocaine trafficking organizations in which adults used students as go-betweens, police said.


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