Paid to Point

December 15, 2011

All of the lame-brained ideas I’ve read about to fight the war on drugs - and there have been quite a few - none are as outright stupid and irresponsible as the one being promoted by Johnson County, KY Sheriff Dwayne Price.  Sheriff Price is encouraging private citizens to come to his office, get wired up, and go out and ask to buy drugs from suspected drug dealers.  In return he is offering a $100 reward.  This idea is bad policy for many, many reasons.


The Sheriff, I assume, is trying to get around several evidentiary issues that often come up when police do undercover work.  By getting a private citizen to do his work for him he may be able to avoid illegal search and arrest issues, and might even be able to get warrants he would otherwise not have sufficient evidence to get.  But, in doing so he is putting the lives and livelihoods of innocent people on the line without fully disclosing to them the risks and costs of snitching on drug dealers. 


Sheriff Price promises that “[a]ll informants will remain anonymous and the identity of anyone who does undercover work will be kept secret.”  Secret from who?  The minute you charge the dealer, his attorney gets the name and contact information of the informant.  The informant will likely have to come to pre-trial probable cause hearings, and testify at trial as well.  It is downright disingenuous for Sheriff Price to promise anonymity knowing that a skilled defense attorney will blow that veil off as soon as the case gets started.


Citizens are not trained in undercover techniques.  They generally have very little background in proper surveillance, dialogue, and other investigative techniques.  Police take courses that help them to pretend to smoke marijuana, or do drugs, and to mimic the effect of those drugs so as to calm the fears of nervous drug dealers.  It is not uncommon for drug dealers to offer to share a small amount of marijuana or drug when considering selling to a new buyer.  The thought being that if the buyer smokes a marijuana joint, or does a little of whatever drug they are there to buy, then the buyer is most likely not a cop, because cops wouldn’t do drugs.  So what happens to the private citizen that Sheriff Price sends in to buy drugs.  Does he encourage them to do the drugs?  What happens if they have an allergic reaction and suddenly die?  (Remember Len Bias?)  Is Sheriff Price going to grant them amnesty from prosecution for using, buying and possessing illegal substances?  


Putting the safety of these citizen pseudo-cops in jeopardy on the promise of a $100 payout is bad enough, but what happens when a dealer does his time and gets out in five years?  What happens when his friends decide that it would be better for the snitch to not testify at trial?  Is the Sheriff going to protect these citizen informants?  Protect their family?  


The Johnson County, KY Sheriff Department can be reached at 606-789-3411.  If you’re as outraged as this mistake of policy as I am, then feel free to call and tell Sheriff Price that we aren’t the Nazi Youth, we don’t need the government using tax dollars to pay our citizens to spy on each other, and we don’t need a renegade sheriff encouraging