08/14/2014 03:02 pm ET Updated Oct 14, 2014

What the 21 Jump Street Franchise Neglects to Say About Undercover Cops in Schools


When 21 Jump Street, a comedy about underachieving cops sent to a local high school to bring down a student drug ring, was released in 2012, it was ranked the #1 High School Comedy. Two years later, the sequel, set in college, has been playing in theaters for more than two months. While the premise may seem funny in Hollywood, the scenes happening in real life in high schools across the country are anything but.

The Los Angeles Police Department pioneered a high school drug bust operation in the 1970s. Under review in 2004, there was found to be no evidence that the program reduced drugs on school grounds, but there was found to be an increase of arrests in special needs students. This program was subsequently suspended but others in the state and around the country remain.

In one undercover operation in Temecula, California, "Operation Glass House," the motives and results of the police were even more questionable. Twenty two students--most of them special needs-were arrested. One of them was a new student at the school, and didn't have many friends. One of the first, and only, friends he made during the school year was a student named Dan. After the two of them forged a friendship, Dan began asking the student to buy him drugs, sending more than 60 text messages before the student finally agreed. He bought half a joint from a homeless man. This happened twice before the student refused to continue and Dan stopped being his friend.

Soon after they stopped being friends, armed police officers walked into his classroom, arrested the student, and brought him to a juvenile detention center for bringing drugs onto school campus. Even after his parents went to court and he was found not guilty, the school continued to pursue expulsion under their zero tolerance policy. The experience was devastating for the boy, who has been diagnosed with autism as well as bipolar disorder, Tourette's, and several anxiety disorders.

The reality of the Temecula case is something that every parent, especially those parents with special needs children, must address. If the narcs send an undercover officer into your child's school you must not do what most parents do. You must not fold your tent, go home and allow the authorities to flex their uninformed muscles. You must not allow them to tell you that you are lucky because they may have saved your child from a life of drug addiction.

The fact is they have begun the first steps of ruining your child's life and damaging his or her sense of real justice, the true meaning of friendship and the ability to trust anyone in the adult world. They have set your child on a road toward personal destruction by abolishing their ability to become a functioning participant in society.

As a parent, if you buy into the misinformation and drug mythologies passed out by school and criminal justice authorities and allow theirsystem and their ignorance and their twisted ideas of right and wrong rule then you have sold out your child to a system of callous indifference and ignorance.

Fortunately for the student in Temecula, his parents stood up to the tyranny of the sheriff, the prosecutor and the school system. They fought for their son. They sued. They got him back in school. They watched him graduate and they exposed a system corrupted by myth, government bureaucracy and federal money. They cared about their son. They stood up and said, "We did not send our son to school to learn how to sell drugs."

Their activism exposed a rotten system and saved their son from the grasp of institutional arrogance, impunity and irrational thought.

Their actions also helped many others. The school system, the sheriff and the prosecutor are now fighting each other over who is going to pay the damages rather than plotting the destruction of more children's lives. Since being exposed by the courageous actions of one special needs student's parents, school drug stings in Riverside and San Bernardino County have stopped.

Last year there was no "Operation Glass House." Last year not one child was perp-walked in handcuffs out of his classroom because a "friend" taught him how to buy drugs and talked him into scoring a little weed - - off campus.

The producers of 21 Jump Street would do well to tell that story.

Stephen Downing is a retired deputy chief of the LAPD and a board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of law enforcement officers opposed to the war on drugs.