Two dozen Southern California high school students were arrested Thursday for allegedly selling illegal drugs on their school campuses.
The arrests were the result of a semester-long undercover drug sting by a male and female police officer posing as 11th graders, according to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.
Trevor Steinrichter, 16, said police showed up in his history class Thursday. “Scary. I saw my friend get arrested,” he said to the Press Enterprise.
Bruce Hollen, 16, said it was disturbing to think that a friend could actually be an officer. “You think you can trust people – you just never know,” he said to the paper.
The sheriff’s department said it identified 23 juvenile students and two adult students between Perris High School in Perris, Calif. and Paloma Valley High School in Meniffee, Calif. who were involved in the drug sales.
Marijuana, cocaine, crack, meth, hashish and various prescription pills were among the drugs recovered by deputies during the course of the investigation.
The underage students were taken to juvenile hall, and the adult students, 18-year-old Serina Ramirez and 19-year-old Erick De La Cruz of Perris High School, were taken to a detention center.
Drug stings have become an annual occurrence in Riverside County. Last December, an undercover drug sting resulted in the arrests of 22 students between Temecula Valley High School, Chaparral High School and Rancho Vista Continuation High School. One boy's parents are suing their son's school district, alleging that an uncover officer tricked their son, who has autism, into buying pot for the officer.
In 2011, deputies posing as students at high schools in Moreno Valley and Wildomar, arrested 24 students on drug-dealing charges. In 2010, 14 students were arrested in an undercover sting at Palm Desert High School.
The Riverside County Sheriff's Department says its goal is to maintain a drug-free living environment for the community. Its undercover narcotics program in schools is not designed to recover large amounts of drugs, the department says. Instead, the program is meant to quell smaller hand-to-hand narcotics transactions that are typical on high school campuses and "which may lead to other criminal activity," the department says.
Critics of undercover drug stings argue it's unfair to target teenagers, who are often emotionally vulnerable. “Sending police and informants to entrap high-school students is sick," Tony Newman of the Drug Policy Alliance said Friday. "More often than not the drug war is ruining young people's lives and doing much more harm than good."
A 2007 Department of Justice report found that drug stings can have favorable results in the short term, but can force dealers underground and have not demonstrated long-term success.