Reflecting a resurgence of drug use among teen-agers, undercover police officers posing as students at 10 Los Angeles high schools arrested the largest number of suspected drug dealers in any semester since 1988, authorities said Monday.
The undercover “School Buy Program” resulted in the arrests of 201 people--157 of them students--at the schools, including five in the San Fernando Valley. Drugs sold included marijuana, crack and powder cocaine, LSD and a small amount of peyote. Most of the students face drug sales charges and will probably be sent to alternative campuses in the school district, according to school administrators.
The number of arrests jumped 47% over last fall, when 137 suspected dealers were arrested.
“It’s skyrocketed,” said Lt. Bud Harper, who oversees the Los Angeles Police Department’s juvenile narcotics section. “It’s a phenomenon going on that a lot of people aren’t aware of. It’s just gone up so much in such a short amount of time.”
The 10 schools where young-looking officers posed as students beginning the first day of school this year were: Canoga Park, where 13 students were arrested; Cleveland, where 19 were arrested; Locke, where 20 were arrested; Narbonne, where nine were arrested; North Hollywood, where four were arrested; Palisades, where four were arrested; University, where four were arrested; Van Nuys, where 15 were arrested; Venice, where 27 were arrested, and Verdugo Hills, where 19 were arrested. Other arrests were made off campus.
Los Angeles police said the numerous arrests this semester mirror the increasing numbers of youths being caught with drugs across the city. From January to June, Los Angeles police arrested 1,579 juveniles compared to 1,150 last year--a 37% increase--for drugs.
In one surprising arrest, a student was nabbed after selling a handgun--on the Verdugo Hills High School campus--to an officer for $60. “We don’t solicit guns, but the student brought it from home,” Harper said. “The officer seized the opportunity to get the gun off campus.”
Gary Turner, the Verdugo Hills principal who met with the student and his parents Monday, said the incident was shocking.
“It was pretty surprising to find a student was bringing a gun to sell to someone on campus,” Turner said. “I feel fortunate that he sold it to an undercover officer.”
The gun, which belonged to the boy’s father, had been reported missing to the South Gate police, where the family lives. The boy is bused to the Tujunga school, which was informed about the missing weapon.
Overall, the undercover officers recovered nine guns and nearly $10,000 cash. The officers also seized about $109,392 worth of drugs, including more than 30 pounds of marijuana.
The figures reflect a trend continuing into the fall semester, according to Wes Mitchell, chief of the Los Angeles Unified School District police. Police made 46% more arrests for drugs from July to September this year than they did during the same period last year, Mitchell said.
“The old strategies that we used to reduce it or diminish it are not working with this group of kids,” Mitchell said. “I think we’re seeing a turn in the times. . . . It’s back to drugs.”
Los Angeles police also said the students are selling larger quantities of drugs--pounds rather than ounces of marijuana, for example--and that more students are becoming the middlemen in the drug trade and are using younger students to sell.
One undercover officer was taken to a house in West Los Angeles where 11 pounds of marijuana were being sold.
The drug dealers range from suspected gang members to students just dabbling in drugs to make some extra money, police said. “It was a wide range--from those just beginning to experiment in the drug scene all the way to some hard-core kids out there really hustling drugs,” Harper said.
Of the 157 students arrested, nearly 25 are participating in the Police Department’s drug diversion program in which they receive counseling and charges are not filed against them. The program was devised for students who are just beginning to sell drugs.
School administrators confirmed the increase in drugs on and around their campuses.
Said Larry Higgins, principal at Canoga Park High: “Marijuana is the drug being used. It’s back from the ‘60s.”
Mitchell, of the school police, said he believes the district, as well as state and national leaders, must readdress the drug problem. “It’s not just us,” Mitchell said. “It’s not a problem just in Los Angeles or California. It’s a national issue.”
Harper acknowledged that officers and administrators need to be more vigilant about tracking drugs on school campuses. “We may have been lulled into a false sense (due to declining arrests) . . . so maybe we didn’t have to focus on it,” Harper said. “We do now.”
* NARCOTICS USE INCREASES: National survey finds nearly half of all high school seniors have tried illicit drugs. A34