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June 2, 2007 - News Tribune (WA)

Drug Sting Praised, Questioned

By Joseph Montes, The News Tribune

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Surprise was the first reaction students had at Federal Way's Todd Beamer High School after hearing that two police officers had walked among them as peers for seven months while building evidence for a drug and gun sales sting.

For many, the second reaction was relief.

Students of all grade levels said they appreciated having two Federal Way police officers -- a 28-year-old woman and a 33-year-old man -- taking action against what many perceived to be a serious drug problem in their school.

"I've seen it bad," said 17-year-old Justin Eley of the amount of drugs trafficked. "I'd prefer there to be undercover cops here. It makes me feel safe to know there's someone watching over us."

Students interviewed Friday were frank about the presence of marijuana, Ecstasy, cocaine and prescription medications in their school. They're there and openly discussed and gloated about in hallways and around lunch tables, students said.

"You see people coming to class all high," said Alyssa Burrington, a 15-year-old freshman. "I had a friend expelled (for selling Ecstasy)."

Thursday's sting led to felony charges -- of selling drugs, weapons or both -- against 12 students in three of Federal Way's high schools. One adult in his 20s was charged.

Students at Todd Beamer High said there were no disturbances in their daily activities while the arrests, some of which happened on school grounds, took place.

Some were disturbed to know, however, that seven months had gone by without their being notified of undercover officers in their school. Teachers were in the dark, too.

"They didn't tell anyone. They don't actually go to our school, and they go to classes and socialize with us," said Keegan Claxton, a 15-year-old freshman. "It's a little creepy."

Claxton was skeptical of the good that could come from such operations and whether it outweighed making students uneasy. Serious drug dealers are on the streets, not in the schools, he said, adding that targeting student dealers doesn't get to the source of the problem.

School district officials in Los Angeles, where undercover police work in schools was pioneered in the 1970s, share his criticisms.

For 30 years, the Los Angeles Police Department conducted undercover operations in schools. Many amounted to small marijuana arrests, not big drug trafficker takedowns. Operations were canceled in 2005 after school officials said there was no evidence that undercover cops reduced the number of students using drugs or made them less available.

"In every high school, drugs are a big problem," said Robin Middleton, an 18-year-old Todd Beamer senior who's in favor of having undercover officers in school as long as they remove drug dealers. Middleton also knows someone who had come to class high and been expelled.

Many students said it would be easier if school officials talked to them to learn how drugs moved through the school.

A common place where drugs are dealt is the student parking lot, students said. Only 100 yards from the school's entrance, students get high, smoke cigarettes and sell drugs, they said. It's also a place where they go to skip class.

Inside the school, an area downstairs near a janitor's closet is popular. Eley said he's seen students drinking there and once saw two passing pills.

"That's a trouble area," he said, "Kids just hang out and do a bunch of weird stuff. It's not really supervised."

Some dealers are even bolder. Charging papers filed against those arrested in Thursday's sting tell of a student in Federal Way High School selling drugs in class while teachers gave instruction.

An undercover officer asked the student if he could "buy some smoke." The student told him to sit near him during class and then proceeded to break up $5 worth of marijuana behind a baseball cap in what the report described as "a poor attempt to conceal the drug transaction."

Many students watched, the report said.

Such a story doesn't surprise Todd Beamer junior Seth Miller. Like many of his peers, Miller, 16, is aware of the drug problem at his school, but he's torn about whether undercover police are needed to solve it. "It's hard to wrap my head around it," he said. "I'll definitely be thinking about it more."

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