Do Florida sex crime stings target the wrong types of offenders?

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After recent news investigations, police departments in Florida are revising their practices related to sex crime sting operations.

Florida CBS affiliate WPTV 10 News in Tampa has been tracking how law enforcement agencies use targeted sting operations to find and arrest individuals who might commit sex crimes with minors. Over the past several years, police have arrested and locked up about 1,200 men through these operations, which have been the subject of greater scrutiny in recent months.

According to a 10 News report in August, a substantial portion of the men that law enforcement officers have arrested were not seeking to engage in sexual activity with a minor - in fact, most of them were online looking for other adults. Critics say that undercover officers have been too aggressive in grooming these men and actually convincing them to break the law to meet up with a minor. Thus, it's possible that many of these individuals would have never offended if not prodded by police officers.

In some of the worst cases, undercover officers engaged adult men on dating websites like Plenty of Fish posing first as other adults, only to change their age once they had established a conversation. And although law enforcement officials like Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd have regularly held press conferences featuring the mug shots of arrested men, reporters' investigations found that many of these individuals later had their charges dropped.

After the investigative reports hit the news media, police departments across the state have revised their policies related to these sex crime stings. According to a follow-up 10 News report in October, a recent sting in Pinellas County resulted in just 11 arrests, down significantly from the 30- to 40-arrest average the county had seen in similar efforts. However, police officers continue to go undercover to arrest people they suspect of being sexual offenders online, which some critics believe represents entrapment.

Are sex crime stings overused?

The problems associated with sex crime sting operations are not isolated to Florida. In mid-October, WPEC News 12 in West Palm Beach reported on a lawsuit against a school district in north Alabama. The plaintiffs in the suit claim that in 2010, a teacher's aid at one of the district's schools used a 14-year-old girl to bait a 16-year-old boy who had faced claims of sexual harassment in the past. The girl was reportedly raped before school officials could reach her.

Although this particular operation didn't appear to be organized by law enforcement officers, it still highlights the flaws associated with using minors or adults posing as minors to lure individuals into committing a sexual offense. It's possible that by taking these measures, police officers are actually creating more alleged offenders than stopping those who are actually about to commit a sex crime.

If you've been arrested for a sex crime in a sting operation, it's important to understand that you have rights, and law enforcement officers may overstep when making these arrests. Speak with a skilled Orlando criminal defense lawyer to learn more.

Keywords: sex crime, charges, arrest