Cops Offer to Clean Coronavirus From Illegal Drugs — Then Bust You on the Spot
Now comes word that at least two dozen police departments throughout the US have posted “official” misinformation on Facebook claiming that the coronavirus may have contaminated illegal substances, particularly Methamphetamine. According to BuzzFeed News and The Washington Post, cops are using social media to entice individuals into bringing their illegal drugs to police stations for “testing” for the presence of the deadly virus.
Once anyone presents him- or herself at the precinct house with his or her drugs in tow, or, even worse, summons the cops to his or her home and points out the “contaminated” drugs, well….you can just about guess what happens next, right?
At this writing, the coronovirus has killed nearly 3,000 people worldwide, with the US suffering it’s first death from the disease just this weekend.
Amazingly, some local media outlets have echoed the cops’ misinformation campaigns on their own Facebook pages.
In Wisconsin, the Merill Police Department posted this ominous admonition on February 26:
“WARNING: If you have recently purchased Meth, it may be contaminated with the Corona Virus. Please take it to the Merrill Police Department and we will test it for free. If you’re not comfortable going into an office setting, please request any officer and they’ll test your Meth in the privacy of your home. Please spread the word! We are here for you!”
The very next day, February 27, after coming under withering criticism, the Merill Police Department “updated” its posting. Apparently, some individuals actually believed the “warning” to be legitimate while others thought the department should not joke about the virus.
“While other departments are creating substance use outreach programs, you’re doing this. Substance use disorder is a public health crisis. Making a mockery of it is putting you further away from a solution. This is disgusting,” one person wrote in the ‘comments’ section of the Facebook post.
The cops, being cops, were not deterred or dissuaded. On the contrary, they doubled-down and offered this rather terse response:
“We are a Law Enforcement Agency, not a recovery service,” they said. “We address crime and the criminals who perpetrate it anywhere we can in our City and any way we lawfully can.”
And in an all but public plea of “guilty” as charged, this police department concluded with this:
“We have actually experienced people report their illegal drugs being stolen, being ripped off in a drug deal, being sold a look-a-like illegal substance, etc. We have even experienced drunk drivers coming to pick up arrested drunk drivers as their ‘sober responsible party.’ So this attempt, although a long shot, still had some possibility behind it. We will take those easy grabs at removing poison from our community whenever we can. That is our role which we un-apologetically must fulfill.”
As stated, coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China, has killed more than 2,900 people and infected more than 85,000 others. Up until the last few days, this disease had been primarily contained in China. It has now spread to other parts of Asia, Europe, the Middle East, the US and Africa. In effect, this novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has encompassed and affected/infected the entire world. At least 76 people have died outside of mainland China.
Dissemination of misinformation as to this virus has not been limited to police departments. Indeed, a candidate for a local sheriff’s office, and ten local journalists and radio stations also shared the inaccurate information on their Facebook pages, according to a BuzzFeed News report, which has as its headline:
“Texas police say local meth is contaminated with coronavirus, offer to test it.” That same article was re-posted among websites of other Gray Media-owned television stations.
The Washington Post has reported that in 2016, the Granite Shoals, Texas Police Department publicized a similar warning on social media, linking both heroin and meth to the dreaded Ebola virus.
“Giving mythological information and being tongue-in-cheek about something that’s really serious, where there’s been a lot of loss and a lot of deaths seems just problematic coming from a state agency,” Jon Zibbell, a former CDC epidemiologist at RTI International, said, according to BuzzFeed News. “There’s absolutely no evidence for this.”
Of course, Facebook and other social media platforms are now being queried as to how they will handle coronavirus misinformation campaigns, whether conducted by cops, other government officials, or anyone else. For its part, Facebook originally said that it will absolutely ban misleading advertisements that mentioned coronavirus. However, Facebook suddenly went “radio silent” after that statement and has not responded to further questions.
Exploiting public fears about a virus outbreak to entrap illegal drug users is, just that — entrapment. Apparently, it is also something of a standard policing technique.
According to Black’s Law Dictionary, “entrapment is the act of public officers where they lure a suspected criminal into doing a criminal act.” It occurs when police officers coerce or induce someone into committing a crime. Entrapment is an affirmative defense to criminal charges, and it is based on interaction between police officers and a defendant prior to (or during) the alleged crime.
This seems fairly straight forward. A cop may not actively solicit criminal activity and then seek to prosecute that activity.
Thus, I submit that most so-called “sting” operations are illegal. Soliciting illegal drugs and then busting people for having/selling/using those selfsame drugs just seems to me to be unfair.
But what do I know? I was only a civil litigation paralegal from 1978 to 2010, and rarely dealt with criminal issues.