Early last month, a team of Florida detectives went undercover as part of an elaborate sting operation to target sex offenders. The detectives posed online as minors and, with hints of sex, arranged to meet various men at various public locales. Ultimately, 18 men were caught in the trap, most of them hailing from Manatee County, Polk County, Sarasota County and the surrounding region.
While all of the men were charged with traveling to solicit a minor for sex, three of them were also charged with using a computer to solicit a minor for sex -- allegations that, should they result in convictions, will likely land the perpetrators in jail and also follow them once they are released.
Yet the question has arisen as to whether the Florida law enforcement officers overstepped the bounds of the law.
How the police themselves break the law
Florida police have been alleged to use aggressive -- and, often, illegal -- tactics to catch sex offenders. A recent investigation identified more than 1,200 cases in which officers not only entrapped victims but took their property. The investigation "found that many of the men arrested and publicly shamed...were not actually looking for children online...They were looking for other adults when detectives started to groom and convince them to break the law."
Such tactics have caused many civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, to admonish the police for acting unlawfully and call for greater police oversight. In many cases, criminal defense attorneys were able to represent the men charged and have the allegations dismissed. Nevertheless, those accused suffered damage to their personal reputations.
The game is unlikely to change
The authorities have stood firm. Indeed, as the most recent operation shows, they are continuing to utilize stings. And Polk County law enforcement officers avow that the problem of men seeking children in Central Florida is real. Nevertheless, reports have indicated that "the stings offered a solution to a problem that didn't actually exist."
Indeed, these operations seem to be a problem in themselves.