This artlicle, by Tom Lyons highlights the growing realization that these stings are not out “to catch a predator” but to induce people with no propensity or desire to do anything illegal into criminal activity.


Published: Wednesday, April 30, 2014 at 6:50 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 30, 2014 at 6:50 p.m.

Law enforcement video showing bad guys surprised with an unexpected bust is often fun to watch.

The videos I saw Tuesday showed some of the 12 newest sex-sting bustees, mostly men who appeared as unattractive dorks looking dumber than usual thanks to deer-in-the-headlights expressions.

No wonder. Each had knocked at the door of a house in Sarasota County after he had allegedly agreed, in an online chat, to show up for a sexual encounter with a minor. Each was instead greeted by a rush of deputies.

But the shocked and handcuffed arrestees looked so rocked by the unsexy surprise that I couldn’t fully enjoy the gotcha moments. Turns out it isn’t that much fun seeing a young man at the moment he realizes his life has been ruined.

As I watched, I wondered how much each life-destroying arrest was caused by the man’s criminal or immoral inclination and how much was the work of police officers who spun unlikely fantasies to seduce men into illegal sex with an enthusiastic, underage, totally fictional stranger.

It is hard to feel sorry for any guy who goes to a house in hopes of sex with a 14-year-old, no matter that there really never was one. But what bothers me in many cases is that, though arrest reports almost never mention it, the usual practice of the online chat cops is to use the bait and switch. They chat with men who have shown no interest in finding an underage sex partner. They get them excited about a potential encounter with a willing adult.

Then they claim to be 14. Even if the man balks or expresses qualms at this unexpected news, the cops continue to push. They press on with more enticements — photos — making it clear how ready and willing the fictional 14-year-old is. Some try not to take no for an answer.

Maybe the deputies weren’t so pushy this time. I don’t know, but they only got 12 guys. Those ops used to bust twice that many men, so I hope that lower number is OK with the cops and that they won’t try twice as hard next time.

It is creepy, of course, that a dozen men willing to take that bait can be found and busted within just a few hours, even after numerous new stories about such busts. I don’t feel sympathy for them. But it seems almost equally creepy that law officers are doing the enticing, and how far they sometimes go to get a man to agree.

I already reported on one gated community guard who was found not guilty by a jury. He had never even gone to the house, and testified that he knew almost for sure he was e-chatting with a cop but kept doing so to see how police operated. When he said online that he wasn’t interested in sex with an underage girl, the undercover cop said he must be gay.

Such heavy-handed salesmanship would be tacky for an actual pimp. That cops ever use that hard sell on unsophisticated men who have never shown any inclination to seek out minors seems wrong to me.

The idea should be to catch predators who are trying to entice and target minors. But that is difficult, so most sex sting task forces take the easy route: They create their own offenders and bust them instead.



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