New York, NY — With all the talk of reducing jail populations and treating drug addiction as a health issue rather than a criminal one, the actions of the New York Police Department (NYPD) seem senseless. In a disturbing form of entrapment, undercover narcotics officers are giving homeless people cash to buy drugs and then arresting them on felony drug-dealing charges.
In one case, a cop posing as a homeless woman on the verge of withdrawal approached 21-year-old Brian L. as he chatted with a friend at a table.
“I said I would help her,” he testified. They walked from the McDonald’s, at Delancey and Essex Streets, toward East Sixth Street, where Brian L. said he often bought heroin. About a block away, he told the woman and his friend to wait, at the steps of an elementary school. The undercover officer handed him $20. He returned with two bags, which he gave the officer. Minutes later, he was arrested.”
The nine-member field team in this pathetic sting operation made no move to follow Brian to see where he bought the drugs. They were only interested in trapping this destitute man into committing a “crime” of buying a bit of heroin for a person appearing to be in desperation.
In another case, the undercover cop let the homeless addict use his phone to call the dealer. No effort was made to track the dealer down, even though they had his number in the cop’s phone. It begs the question, why is the NYPD obsessed with going after homeless drug addicts?
Jurors and judges are expressing skepticism about this tactic, with one juror writing a letter to prosecutors saying it was “approaching absurd that you would use the awesome power of your office to represent the people of New York County, along with it and the court’s limited resources, on such a marginal case.”
The New York Times reviewed four cases where this tactic was used; three of the defendants were acquitted while a fourth case was deadlocked. Brian L. was acquitted by the jury in less than an hour, but the six-day trial cost him his job.
Prosecutors are defending the entrapment of homeless drug users, saying they are responding to community complaints about drug dealing and drug use. Chief Brian McCarthy said, “I believe that we attempt to do our jobs in a planned manner with the utmost integrity where we do get people who are selling narcotics.”
From the victim’s perspective, things look different. These cops are preying on the weakness of drug addiction and homelessness, so they can “just do their job” by filling quotas and prison cells.
“For him to put the money in my hands, as an addict, let me tell you what happens,” said Reginald J. “I like to think I could resist it, but I’m way beyond that. My experience has shown me that 1,000 times out of 1,000 times, I will be defeated.”
If Mayor Bill DeBlasio and Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr. are serious in their proclamations about reducing prison populations and treating addiction as a health problem, then the first thing they should do is put a stop to this reprehensible practice of entrapping homeless drug addicts.