Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Benefits of Sting Operations26

They Facilitate Investigation and Increase Arrests

There are many cases on record of known or suspected criminal activity such as systemic corruption or bribery where sting operations facilitated the collection of evidence and identification of significant offenders, thus leading to significant increases in arrests. Existing research clearly demonstrates that most sting operations result in an increase in arrests, sometimes dramatically so, which bolsters the case for the police department toincrease its budget.

They Enhance Public Relations and Police Image

From the often spectacular revelations resulting from a sting that snares high-profile people, to the mundane publicity of catching drunk drivers during a holiday season, the police department stands to receive considerable positive publicity because sting operations are often perceived as clever ways of catching otherwise elusive criminals who deserve their punishment. However, the canny police chief will bring the media on board as soon as possible to ensure that they do not focus on the negative side of sting operations, such as entrapment. Indeed, in some cases, such as drunk driving or speed traps, the police may use the media as part of the sting operation to publicize the impending police action.

They Enhance Police Presence

The revelation of a successful sting operation, or even the announcement of a planned one, may have an effect on offending in neighboring localities (so-called diffusion of benefits). One well-designed study on reducing illegal gun availability27 supported this finding, and a number of reported sting operations also make this claim.

They Improve Collaboration Between Police and Prosecutors

If a sting is to end successfully with many arrests, the success will be diminished if few of those arrested are convicted. And since stings often end with a flurry of arrests, it will be necessary to ensure that the prosecutor’s office can deal with a sudden influx of cases. Although the reasons for lack of convictions may vary, more often than not they may result from the defendants’ using some form of the “entrapment defense. ” Police officers therefore must work very closely with prosecutors so that they collect and record evidence in a way that does not break any evidentiary procedures or rules. There are many cases on record demonstrating the necessity for this collaboration.

They Provide an Impressive Conviction Record

As noted earlier, research indicates that the conviction rates for those arrested in sting operations are impressively high, though varying depending on the type of operation. The reasons for such a high conviction rate, even in the face of the entrapment defense, are the ample supply of video testimony of offenders in the process of committing their crimes, often accompanied by offenders who confess freely when confronted with these videos, and, in the more sophisticated stings, the use of well-established procedures of collecting evidence and recording transactions.

They May Succeed Without Convictions or Arrests

Police may use sting operations to publicize their presence. They sometimes use this technique in vice operations, where the announcements of decoy officers in a particular location may reduce prostitution, though this is usually only temporary (see, e.g., Problem-Specific Guide No. 2, Street Prostitution). However, a successful sting operation to uncover selling of liquor to juveniles may be enough for the merchant to lose his or her liquor license without being arrested.

They Often Require Partnering With Community and Business Organizations

Sting operations almost always require the cooperation of local community organizations or businesses to provide community, financial, or logistical support. For example, a local car dealer may provide decoy or bait cars, or a local business may provide office space for a storefront operation. While there may be some risks involved in accepting help from businesses in sting operations (for example, they may expect a break in compliance in other matters), overall, working closer with communities is a benefit—even essential—for modern policing. (See Response Guide No. 3, Shifting and Sharing Responsibility for Public Safety Problems; Problem-Solving Tool Guide No. 5, Partnering With Businesses To Address Public Safety Problems).

They Improve Community Relations by Recovering Stolen Property

Citizens who have been victimized by theft value most the police response that retrieves their stolen articles. Using informers and stings often leads to recovery of stolen goods, as noted in the several operations reviewed earlier concerning storefront stings.