What Is a Reverse Sting?
If you run an Internet search for “reverse sting,” “police sting,” or “sting operation,” you will see a variety of articles and opinion posts. For instance, last month, there was a prostitution sting in Chicago that led to 75 arrests. However, there is also an open petition on change.org with over 7,000 signatures that is asking for the end of “reverse-sting operations.”
One thing is clear in all the noise, however: sting operations are very controversial.
What Is a Police Sting?
Police stings are operations in which police target those who they think either have or likely will commit a particular type of crime. According to a Harvard article, “[t]he defining feature of a sting operation is that through covert means, the authorities create or facilitate the very offense of which the defendant is convicted.” They are usually used to attempt to take down major drug or prostitution rings, but in the last couple of decades, they have also focused on reducing terrorism.
Undercover agents will pose as interested drug buyers, sex buyers, or terrorists to see if they can get someone to join them. When they “work,” they find interested parties who are willing to go far enough into criminal activity – exchanging money for drugs or sex or buying materials for bombs – to become charged with a crime or crimes.
Why Are They Controversial?
What makes them controversial is that the police usually initiate the crime. Of course, that is not how the police would describe it. There is no denying, however, that these operations begin with police putting out some kind of “bait” to see who will bite. In the end, they can point to the criminal’s willingness to engage in criminal activity as justification.
Doesn’t this make you think a little about the movie “Minority Report?” The synopsis of that movie – starring Tom Cruise – is that police use psychic technology to anticipate and stop crimes before they even occur. Without that psychic technology, sting operations – in the eyes of the authorities – are the next best thing.
Why Are They Legal?
The law has created a distinction between sting operations and something called entrapment. Sting operations are legal; entrapment is illegal. A sting operation is legal because it focuses on people who would likely commit the crime for which they are convicted. Entrapment is illegal when it captures people who would not likely have committed the crime without police involvement. In other words, the government cannot create a system whereby innocent people become criminals only because its efforts, and not due to the person’s predisposition to commit similar types of crimes. It’s a fairness issue.
For some, this distinction is not enough for sting operations to be legal. Sting operations do not find existing criminals who have committed crimes. They try to find people who might commit crimes and then convince them to commit them.
Do we really want our police to be in the preemptive crime business? Is this the best use of time and resources? Regardless of your position, if you are in need of a defense attorney, call or e-mail today for a free consultation!
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