Join 3,562 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


How do these dealers not get busted?
February 28, 2010 9:36 AM   Subscribe

Several times while out in busy nightlife areas in New York, I've passed random dudes on the street who offer to sell me (and every other passer-by) a whole smorgasbord of drugs, totally unprompted. I've never been remotely tempted to buy, but I'm curious how this works from a legal standpoint. How do these guys not get busted?

Aren't they afraid of asking an undercover cop if he wants "Coke, Ecstasy, K, Coke, Ecstasy, K, Coke, Ecstasy, K"? And what happens if they do? I'm guessing, at the very least, that they're not walking around with all this stuff on their person. But it seems like a pretty trivial step for someone to place an "order" then wait for the delivery to make an arrest. So what's the deal with the deal? Are they really just counting on the fact that cops in NYC have bigger fish to fry on a Saturday night than street level dealers selling to yuppie partiers?
posted by decoherence to Law & Government (33 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
So what's the deal with the deal? Are they really just counting on the fact that cops in NYC have bigger fish to fry on a Saturday night than street level dealers selling to yuppie partiers?

My guess is that this is exactly it.
posted by proj at 9:45 AM on February 28, 2010


I've known some dudes who sold drugs to strangers at concerts and festivals and stuff like that. All of them took pride in their ability to make undercover cops.
posted by box at 9:58 AM on February 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


There are way more yuppie partiers than undercover cops, and street-level drug dealers deal with the risks of cops and arrest as a part of their lifestyle.
posted by doteatop at 10:04 AM on February 28, 2010


Once you enter the, erm, milieu of drug hustling, spotting undercover cops becomes second nature. Like Spider-sense.
posted by griphus at 10:12 AM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, clearly there are some dealers who can't discern undercover cops as my experience on a grand jury has shown plainly.

In any event, if you are caught by an undercover cop, but don't have drugs on you, you get charged with a lesser offense than if you do have drugs on you.

The TV show The Wire showed this very well. Admittedly the demographics are different. But I would think (and perhaps I'm naive here) that the people you see offering you drugs don't have themon their person. Rather they take your money and signal another person whogives you the drugs.
posted by dfriedman at 10:16 AM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


spotting undercover cops becomes second nature. Like Spider-sense.

It isn't even that hard. I remember once walking through Washington Park with a friend, and Washington Park, mind you, is like sketchy drug deal central for manhattan and there are lots of cops that frequent the place. This man approaches us - a man wearing khaki shorts with a black Pink Floyd t-shirt tucked tightly into the shorts, his beer gut bulging over. He wore high socks and tennis shoes. He was clean shaven save a well-kept goatee, his hair combed neatly back.

He approached us and said, "Hey there guys! You guys know where I can get some hash??" "Um...no...no we don't officer, sorry."
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:48 AM on February 28, 2010 [19 favorites]


Well, I don't know anything about this, but maybe once you express interest in buying, and he gets a chance to eye you over to see if you look like a narc, perhaps he somehow signals a partner who can come running over with the desired drugs. That way he can't be caught with any drugs. Dunno.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 10:48 AM on February 28, 2010


Even if the undercover cops aren't really that easy to spot, people from all walks of life routinely fool themselves to believe they're more perceptive than they are. You probably have at least one friend who thinks (s)he can pick out every gay guy in a room.

Additionally, many drug dealers, particularly small-time ones, treat regular arrests as part of the cost of doing business. I would imagine this is a pretty hard customer base to cultivate through any means other than word-of-mouth.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 10:54 AM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


This man approaches us - a man wearing khaki shorts with a black Pink Floyd t-shirt tucked tightly into the shorts, his beer gut bulging over. He wore high socks and tennis shoes. He was clean shaven save a well-kept goatee, his hair combed neatly back.

Pretty much. Their attempt to encompass the Platonic ideal of inconspicuity is conspicuous as all hell.
posted by griphus at 10:56 AM on February 28, 2010


Undercover cops can be pretty easy to spot. I was once at a political demonstration where we (i.e., the lefty demonstrators) had a good time jerking one around. The culmination was "sir, you dropped your badge!" He looked. Oops.

Even if half of 'em are competent, that still shaves the probability of getting nailed down in a big way -- add that to the "way more yuppie partiers" factor and it probably isn't much higher risk than most other forms of drug dealing. The fundamental problem in selling any illegal good is figuring out how to advertise to those who want to buy without those who want to arrest, and that's going to be a problem regardless how one gets the word out.
posted by paultopia at 11:02 AM on February 28, 2010


This happens on a constant basis at pretty much every concert I've been too, most especially the camping festivals. It is not rare at all to have dozens of people walk by you uttering "Coke, dank, pharms, pizza!" Maybe the pizza part is rare but still I was always amazed by this practice! You might have heard of "Shakedown St." If you are at a show and somebody tells you "Shakedown is this way, man!" then you are on your way to drug alley. Mixed in with sellers of less-nefarious things like granola and crystals.

There is a sort of buddy system at these shows where if somebody identifies an undercover cop than word gets spread very quickly. See that guy with the dreads asking everybody where the "llello" is at? Yeah he's a cop.

On the other side of the coin, however, are people SEEKING drugs. They walk by people just like those selling drugs but instead of saying what they have they request what they want. "Who's got my (insert drug here)?" Over and over again until they find it!

Shakedown St. can become very creepy, as you might imagine. At a lot of these festivals/jamband shows, the locals usually come out to the lot just to peddle dope. I've seen fist fights, fires, and plenty of arrests as a result.
posted by deacon_blues at 11:05 AM on February 28, 2010


In my long-ago infrequent experience (not a regular buyer, distinctly non-yuppie crowd as well,) once you agree, the journey begins. The proposer will ask you to follow him to where his "friend" has the goods. On the way, you will pass by several of his friends, any of whom can signal that they don't like the looks of you. The friends will also watch for signs that you're being watched over by someone else (which may or may not be a deal breaker depending on their comfort level, but you will get asked some pointed questions about that.) They have various personal little questions and superstitions that they use to increase their confidence that you aren't a cop. Some like to draw it out until you got impatient, believing that that made you ok, since a cop has all day to make a bust and isn't in any hurry. On the other hand, they don't have all day if they want to make any money from anyone else. At some point they will get the money from you separately from handing over the drugs, so that it doesn't look like a sale transaction.

Eventually you find yourself in a more or less secluded place with at least two of "them" and maybe a lookout depending on how physically safe they feel from getting robbed by you. Then they will give you your stuff. Then they will leave the area in the opposite direction from you.

At any point, if you WERE a cop, you could say "you're under arrest," but up until the last minute they can claim they were just conning you out of some money. At the handing-over point, they could just run or beat you up.
posted by ctmf at 11:09 AM on February 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


Wanted to add one thing:
Undercover cops do the dope their busting on occasion. I have seen this with my own eyes. I have had friends arrested after smoking with a cop. A lot of people believe that undercover cops won't actually partake in drugs but hey, not much of a surprise that they do.
posted by deacon_blues at 11:14 AM on February 28, 2010


I have served on a grand jury in NYC. Undercover cops are not that easy to spot, believe me.
posted by milarepa at 11:17 AM on February 28, 2010


^ Yeah, what Milarepa said. All you posters who claim the undercovers are "easy to spot"--what we have here is a bonanza of illogic and skewed perception. You only spot easily the ones who are easy to spot.

doesn't help answer the OP, sorry
posted by scratch at 11:26 AM on February 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


i think cops generally have more important things to do and they get tired of dragging the same dumb drug dealers into court every few months, especially when somebody just as dumb and possibly twice as mean is ready and willing to take their place on the street.
posted by Glibpaxman at 11:28 AM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


How do these guys not get busted?

They do. And go to jail, or not, and get out, or not, and return to the spot, or not. They are expendable.
posted by generalist at 11:38 AM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Often these are just guys looking for a chance to rip you off and they don't actually have any drugs. They may well take your money and duck into a building to "get the stuff" only to leave by a back entrance to the building. Their thinking is what are you going to do about it? tell the cops "I was trying to score some coke and this guy took off with my cash"?
posted by juv3nal at 11:47 AM on February 28, 2010


looking for a chance to rip you off and they don't actually have any drugs.

The cut added to drugs counts in the sentencing weight. In some cases I believe that 0% active ingredient can be prosecuted, but it's unlikely the state would go to court on that except in a very unusual case.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:52 AM on February 28, 2010


It is not rare at all to have dozens of people walk by you uttering "Coke, dank, pharms, pizza!" Maybe the pizza part is rare but still I was always amazed by this practice!

They may have been using "pizza" as shorthand for mushrooms, which are a common pizza topping.
posted by Asparagirl at 12:07 PM on February 28, 2010


milarepa: "I have served on a grand jury in NYC. Undercover cops are not that easy to spot, believe me."

The ones that have time to waste on a kid with a few eighths and a handful of pills usually are. Just because there are well-disguised UCOB doesn't mean they are gonna spend their time trying to entrap dealers outside bars and at festivals.
posted by turkeyphant at 12:22 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's plainclothes cop and undercover cop. They are not the same thing.

Back to the original question, I was in a similar situation where an older gentleman, in a suit, driving a nice but nondescript sedan pulls over to ask me if I was interested in purchasing some cocaine on that fine day.

My immediate thought was to ask if the pension and benefits really make up for all the haslte that a career in law enforcement entails figuring that this had to be some kind of deal where, had I said, "sure thing" I would be holding a bag of powdered sugar for about six seconds before the cuffs came out. To this day I still kind of scratch my head about it.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:55 PM on February 28, 2010


My best friend was a rookie in the 6th Pct (which includes Washington Square) and then an undercover narcotics cop in lower Manhattan before and after making detective. The correct answers above are from dfriedman, Salvor Hardin, and ctmf — the dealer doesn't have the drugs on him.

The "buy and bust" works like this: the undercover gives the dealer the money and is referred to the guy who's holding the drugs. Other cops on the team, the "ghosts", are watching from a van. After the dealer sells to a few other people (so the bad guys don't know which buyer was the undercover) the ghosts pop out and grab him and his accomplice.

Now, the cops have the dealer, the holder, the cash, and the drugs. But, this is a lot more time-consuming than it would be if they just grabbed the guy saying "smoke", so only a few dealers are busted each night, and since penalties are not that severe (and the street-level dealer will be offered a deal if he helps bust his supplier), the dealers stay in business.

As for recognizing undercovers, well, some dealers are dumber than others. Just about no-one looks more like a cop than my friend, and he bought heroin all over the East Village. (Back when we called it Alphabet City, and considered a trip to the Pyramid on Ave A pretty adventurous!)
posted by nicwolff at 1:05 PM on February 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


Aren't they afraid of asking an undercover cop...

A lot of these guys are working WITH the cops, which is why you shouldn't risk buying from them.
posted by hermitosis at 2:48 PM on February 28, 2010


I bought some hashish from a guy on the street here in the UK. Only when I got back, I found it wasn't a lump of hash - it was a lump of soap. The stuff you use to clean your face.

Lessons learned: never buy drugs on the street.
posted by hnnrs at 2:53 PM on February 28, 2010


Gosh, I had this happen to me for the first time a few weeks ago. (West Coast, not NY) Kid on a skateboard offered me all kinds of things. One of which was "pennies". Anyone know what pennies are?
posted by Iggley at 3:55 PM on February 28, 2010


It's not that all undercover cops are that oafish, although when younger I have had the middle aged man asking for hash scenario.

I think it's more that it's harder to fake being a young person that potentially does drugs than say someone shopping in a supermarket.

I think the dealers are gonna be wary of selling to anyone that doesn't look right, probably not asking a lot of people that aren't cops.
posted by Not Supplied at 4:59 PM on February 28, 2010


Iggley, maybe you misheard (or he mispoke) bennies?
posted by saucysault at 6:59 PM on February 28, 2010


What makes you think they don't get busted? Most dealing is a numbers game, it appears to me, and getting busted is just part of the life.
posted by nanojath at 7:01 PM on February 28, 2010


...had I said, "sure thing" I would be holding a bag of powdered sugar for about six seconds before the cuffs came out. To this day I still kind of scratch my head about it.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:55 PM on February 28


eponysterical
posted by neuron at 12:02 PM on March 1, 2010


They may have been using "pizza" as shorthand for mushrooms, which are a common pizza topping.

I am so disappointed to learn one doesn't have the chance to get tasty hot pies to go along with the "dank".
posted by _paegan_ at 10:09 PM on March 1, 2010


Better late than never, but... as a young fella that still enjoyed going to concerts and such, I spent my twenties being called a narc by strangers. Apparently I gave off a squeaky-clean narc vibe.

Since the dealers do pretty good volume, they aren't worried about high rates of false positives, so long as the false negatives are stay low.
posted by BleachBypass at 12:37 PM on March 7, 2010


The people harassing you aren't holding. On the flip side, many of them seem to think they are protected by rights they don't have, such as believing a cop will have identify themselves as a cop if asked. Also, like many of the posters here, they believe they can spot narcs easily. In other words, part of it is they're stupid.
posted by xammerboy at 8:26 PM on May 27, 2010


« Older I'd like to upgrade my wardrob...   |  Time to plan a Rocky Mountain ... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.