Ingenious Undercover Cops

In four decades in the criminal justice system, I came across some amazingly creative and effective undercover officers.

The Undercover Police Chief

One part-time under cover officer was actually a local police chief. Stanton, Orange County, California, was a small semi-impoverished city between Knott’s Berry Farm and the beach. The police department was underfunded and understaffed. Maintaining the flow of tourist dollars into the city coffers was crucial for funding the city and the police department. 

There were lots of motels along Beach Blvd. where tourists stayed. There were also a lot of prostitutes working Beach Blvd. going after those tourist dollars. These street walkers were a deterrent to tourists and the family-oriented motels. So, preventing street prostitution was a major priority for the city.

Since this was such a high priority, and since the department was so understaffed, the police chief himself occasionally worked undercover vice. He was perfect.  He looked like a middle age geeky accountant. He certainly did not look like the stereotypical buff cop. He wore thick glasses. He was very thin with a with a slight pear shape.

He cruised Beach Blvd. in a rental car looking for street walkers. He kept a tape recorder wrapped in a sweater next to him on the front seat of the car to record the conversations. 

When the prostitute asked about money, the chief had the perfect response, “How much do you usually charge?” This prevented the hooker from claiming she had never done this in the past, or that it was all just a misunderstanding. 

As he drove, he asked the hooker, “Aren’t you afraid of the police?” Then he asked, “How do you keep from getting arrested?” Whereupon, the prostitute would reveal her techniques for avoiding detection. 

One time, when the hooker asked the chief who he worked for, he said, “The law firm of London, Smith, and Jones,”the names of three local judges. 

The undercover chief’s brilliant questions eliminated most of the possible trial defenses. Thus, he never had to come to court to testify because all of the arrested prostitutes pled guilty. (Eventually, the underfunded police department was dissolved and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department was contracted to take over.)

The Too-good-looking Faux Street Walker

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department decided to use a female undercover deputy to impersonate a street walker on Beach Blvd. in an attempt to arrest the “johns.” 

A very attractive young jailer volunteered  She wore tight short cutoff jeans and a tight T-shirt. 

When she started working undercover I noticed a big increase in my court in the number of cases of men charged with soliciting prostitution  This increase was creating a burden for the courts, the prosecutors, and even the police. 

When the a team of prosecutors looked at the photo of the undercover sheriff in her outfit, they concluded that she was way too good looking for them to get a conviction. The defendant’s attorney would raise an entrapment defense.  They opined that many of the male jurors would agree, thinking to themselves, “I would proposition her myself.” The too successful female undercover officer returned to her duties in the jail.

The “Foreign” Female Undercover Narcotics Officer

One of the best undercover drug officers was a woman.  She worked for a state law enforcement agency. Since almost all undercover drug enforcement officers are men, no one suspected her. Plus, she was a “foreigner.” She was raised in Yugoslavia. She normally had a very pronounced east-European accent. Moreover, when she worked undercover on a major case, she often thickened her accent so that potential drug dealers could barely understand her English. The drug dealers did not suspect an undercover woman. Nor did they suspect an undercover “foreigner.”

The Undercover Bug-Eating Federal Agent

Another memorable undercover officer worked for the a federal law enforcement agency.

A little background. Over the years, I have asked undercover narcotics officers, confidentially and “off the record,” what they did when drug suspects offered them drugs. Drug dealers often offer sample drugs to prospective buyers as a way to identify undercover cops. Most officers were adamant that they would never take drugs even if it meant the investigation would be ruined. Part of the reason for their firmness was self-preservation; they never knew what they were putting in their body or how their body and mind would react. A few officers said that, it if were a major case, they would not hesitate to take the drugs. 

 One federal agent used a very creative technique to avoid taking drugs. He often worked in biker bars. This is one of the most difficult and dangerous assignments.   

When he was offered drugs, he declined, saying, “I have something better for kicks.” He then pulled out a small glass jar. Inside was a live “potato bug,” or Jerusalem cricket.  These ugly 2-3-inch bugs look like the toy cooties. They have flesh-colored bulbous heads and a giant striped bee back. This officer had his friends and family members collect these ugly things. 

The officer released the bug from the jar, and he let it walk around on the bar. He then pushed the bug around with his finger. Finally, when everybody was watching, he slowly grabbed the bug, slowly lifted it to his mouth, and then he slowly chewed the live bug with his mouth open. He then swallowed the bug while everyone winced.

Everyone thought he was too crazy to be a cop. Thus, he was able to infiltrate the drug gang without ever using drugs. 

As a post script, this undercover cop was veteran Army Ranger special forces soldier. So, eating a giant ugly bug was no big deal for him.

 I don’t think an entrapment defense in his cases would work in court.  “But, Your Honor, he ate a bug!”

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