News

Students respond to undercover sting

By MARGO HORNER

The Mirror

Students in Federal Way high schools, for the most part, don't mind the idea of having undercover police officers attending classes with them.

Two weeks ago, the Federal Way Police Department charged 12 students and two adults with drug and weapons charges after an undercover operation at three Federal Way high schools. The officers, a 29-year-old woman and a 33-year-old man, posed as students while purchasing drugs and guns.

Undercover operations in high schools are rare in the area. The most recent local undercover high school bust was in Redmond in 2003.

A random sampling of students walking home from Todd Beamer High School last week revealed that many students really couldn't care less about the undercover operation.

"I don't sell drugs, I don't smoke, I don't do anything," said freshman Lucas Belgarde. "I really don't care if (undercover officers) are here."

Frances Reed, a junior at Todd Beamer, said she supported the police efforts.

She wasn't surprised to hear about the drugs and guns on campus, she said.

"That's typical teenagers," she said, adding that she and her friends feel safe at school.

At Federal Way High School, some students worried that people hearing about the drug busts will think less of their school. Rather, the busts illustrate that police and school officials in Federal Way are proactive, said senior Rita Helmbrecht.

"It should be looked at as a positive thing," she said. "We don't ignore our problems. We like to get after them."

Jeff Oh, a senior, agreed.

"I'm proud that our officers are doing something to keep our schools safe," Oh said.

Justin Willis, a junior at Federal Way, added that school districts everywhere have problems with drugs and guns.

"We're the ones doing something about it," Willis said.

Helmbrecht noted that just because an undercover officer could easily find drugs on campus doesn't mean the campus is rampant with illegal drugs and activity.

If asked, most students could point out a likely source of drugs as easily as they could a student athlete or member of any other group on campus.

"Everybody knows who the party-ers are at every school," Helmbrecht said.

Oh noted that the amount of drugs found on campus was relatively small compared to widely publicized busts involving adults.

In one transaction, an undercover officer purchased $5 worth of marijuana from a student.

"The media makes it sound like it's 'Scarface'," Oh said.

Although students at Federal Way have heard rumors about who the undercover officer at their school was, they aren't certain.

It would be easy for an adult to pass off as a student, Helmbrecht said. Young teachers are often mistaken for students.

"You just throw on some baggy jeans and you're good to go," she said.

Although the busts were likely to slow down drug activity on campus, several students said that the police efforts were unlikely to end the problem.

"If anything, they're going to be a lot more cautious," said Federal Way junior Britni Racus.

Lynaia Collins, a sophomore at Federal Way, said the high school drug busts are an opportunity for early intervention for troubled youth.

"In the long run it will benefit the future because they're getting caught now," she said. "They could change themselves."

Contact Margo Horner: mhorner@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

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