The dismal truth about “buy-bust” operations

The SF Weekly in San Francisco takes a look at the city’s “buy-bust” program, which is supposed to take drugs off the streets.

It would be more accurate to say the program takes police off the street who could be doing more important work:

Buy-busts – in which teams of five to 11 undercover officers solicit drugs on the street – are a prized success story for the SFPD and the district attorney’s office, according to DA spokesman Brian Buckelew.  That’s one way of looking at it.  The other is that buy-busts are expensive wastes of time that accomplish little other than clogging up the courts with low-level addicts while providing gobs of overtime to narcotics cops, according to senior public defender Rebecca Young.  She figures that at least 150 cases like Mason’s go through the courts every month.

The buy-bust program rounds up some professional criminals who deal drugs for a living, but these comprise “maybe 1 percent” of the total, according to Young.  Meanwhile, she says, this “dirty secret of the criminal justice system” accounts for 40 percent of the cases in San Francisco courts, and contributed to the fiasco at the SFPD crime lab, with overworked technicians forced to test dime bag after dime bag within 48 hours of seizure.  These include cases like that of a 30-year-old homeless man who sold a $60 eighth of marijuana to a cop on Haight Street last May, who faces prison time for the pot and the small quantity of psilocybin mushrooms he had stashed in a pocket.