Operation Switch: Going operational
Part two of a four-part series going inside the first long-term undercover operation in the United States
By Jack Miller
This is the second part of a four-part series examining how the Las Vegas Metro Police Department (LVMPD) conducted the first long-term sting operation in the United States.
The first part described the storefront, the personnel, and some of the training the officers received.
Here, I will describe the operation itself.
Open for Business
Two undercover (UC) narcotics detectives were brought into the operation. They signed out a watch, a set of tires, a car radio and a typewriter from the main police evidence vault. These items had been recovered but were no longer considered evidence. They would put these items in their undercover cars and visit bars and other hangouts of the “Criminal Element.”
They would strike up a conversation asking if the person would like to “help me out and earn ten bucks.”
If the person agreed, the UC would tell the person “I have a stolen _____, but I owe my fence some money. If we go and you say the stuff is yours, my fence will pay you and knock a couple of bucks off my debt. After the deal, you give me the money and I pay you.”
This would very often work. Naturally each of these visits were recorded but never used as violations. The person would always be given the phone number of the storefront but told to always call first before coming to the store. Scouts were used for two weeks, and then word of mouth was relied upon.
The “fenced” items were brought to the safe house at night, where the scouts would use them again the next day.
Preparation and Practice
Often the item had serial numbers and as the item was being examined, the counterman would read into the record part of the serial number.
“Look here, the same as my old ladies birth date, 7347.”
If the customer had not looked at the mirror, one of the two countermen would slap the counter or drop something, causing the customer to look left.
After each incident, the team would debrief each other. One thing noted was a realization that when a gun came in to be sold, one counterman handled the gun like a police officer, safely, clearing it first and then aiming it. It was decided that he should certainly make the weapon safe, but not be as careful where it was being aimed.
There was a lot of down time between incidents during the first two months, and there were five men from three different agencies each with their own pride. To occupy some of this down time, books were read, stories told (What was the best case you ever screwed up? What is your most memorable?). Video tapes of movies were brought in, as was a foosball table. There was never a fight inside the storefront.
At the end of each day, the team would drive from the store to the safe house as they did in the mornings, with only the countermen visible while the rest hid in the back.
The safe house team member would receive each incident tape and the items purchased as evidence. The next day he would review the video tapes, take a Polaroid photo of the customer from a TV monitor and rebook the video tape. Additionally he obtained copies of theft reports from police records, telling the clerks, if they asked him, that he was doing a study for the DA.
With these reports and the description of the items purchased, he would have to marry the two to create a violation. If he had the true ID of the customer and a report of theft of the items sold, he would then draft a criminal complaint. This complaint would not be filed with the courts until it was reviewed by a deputy DA at the end of the operation.
In two weeks, on October 31, I’ll tell you all about the Cadillac.
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