When cops create criminals

I’ve written before about how the FBI is in the habit of creating terrorists where none exist.  And here’s a disturbing story from Connor Friedersdorf of Florida police creating sexual predators of juveniles where none would otherwise exist.  It’s really so wrong:

You’re probably thinking, Wait a minute, I’d run from underage encounters. How could men who were really seeking adult sex partners be groomed to break the law?

According to the 10 News investigation, police officers used the following tactics:

  • “Sometimes, the officers would act as an interested adult with a teenage ‘sister’ who was also interested. Even though many of the men had no interest in the underage decoys, if they traveled to meet the adult, they were arrested as a ‘sexual predator’ and charged with ‘traveling to meet a minor.'”
  • “In the case of a 27-year-old Cape Coral man … deputies arrested him even though he didn’t even travel to meet a child for sex. Law enforcement officers responded to the man’s legal ‘casual encounters’ Craigslist ad, pretending to be a 14-year-old girl, even though the ad said, ‘age for all women must be 18+ no one under email me plz.’ The man repeatedly told the undercover detectives that he was ‘not OK’ with meeting up with an underage girl, but because he didn’t immediately end the conversation, he was arrested for utilizing his phone to solicit a sexual act from a child. Detectives went to his house and arrested him as a sexual predator of children.”
  • A 21-year-old “responded to a DateHookup.com ad posted of an 18-year-old woman. The officer … started exchanging messages with the man when he asked her to a movie. The officer wrote, ‘are you Ok with me being under 18?’ The 21-year-old continued the conversation. Following more exchanged messages and texts, the detective later added that ‘she’ was about to turn 16, the age of consent in Florida. As the two continued to swap texts, the man said ‘I don’t want to have sex, is that OK?’ But the detective, who repeatedly rejected the man’s interest in a possible relationship, kept pushing sex and threatened to call off their meeting. When the man finally indicated he would have sex, police had enough to charge him … “

In those cases and others like them, “detectives weren’t posting ads of children, but ads of adults looking for other adults. They would then later introduce a child to the conversation.” Detectives were also “reaching out to law-abiding men posting law-abiding ads on legal dating sites,” as well as Facebook and Twitter, “seeking other adults.”

These detectives behaved unethically and shamefully. [all emphases mine]

Of course, as with the FBI and terrorists, not only is this a shameful violation of law enforcement ethics, it puts us all in greater danger by utterly wasting police resources by creating criminals where truly none would exist, rather than protecting us from actual criminals.

Oh, and to add insult to injury, it gets even worse:

If this approach 1) targeted men who almost certainly represented no actual threat to minors 2) in a way that made successful prosecutions relatively unlikely, why were police doing this? One incentive was the availability of federal funds earmarked for sex predator stings. Another factor: asset forfeiture, which allows police to seize the property of people who are arrested even if they aren’t convicted.

“Florida’s Contraband Forfeiture Act made it easy for agencies to seize property as their own from anyone accused of committing a felony—even if charges are ultimately never filed,” 10News reports. “Sex stings have become especially rich sources for seizures, since almost every man arrested is accused of traveling to seduce, solicit, or entice a child to commit a sexual act … even though no real children are ever involved … However, the accusations are felonies, meaning law enforcement can seize suspect’s vehicles, making it extremely difficult for them to ever get them back without paying thousands of dollars—or more—in cash to the arresting agency.”

In essence, the police wasted time pursing non-threats to public safety in part to enrich themselves at the expense of people like a 24-year-old man arrested in a January sting, who “had to pay $10,000 cash to get his 2014 Lexus returned … though all felony charges were later dropped in his case, he will not get the money back for either the negotiated settlement or the fees he paid an attorney to handle the vehicle case.” This is yet another illustration of the need for asset forfeiture reform.

The tactic is legalized theft.

Damn straight it is.  Shame on any government agency that allows and encourages such behavior.  I can’t help but wonder how many other similarly shameful practices are going on that we don’t even know about.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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