In law enforcement, a sting operation is a deceptive operation designed to catch a person committing a crime. A typical sting will have an undercover law enforcement officer, detective, or co-operative member of the public play a role as criminal partner or potential victim and go along with a suspect's actions to gather evidence of the suspect's wrongdoing. Mass media journalists occasionally resort to sting operations to record video and broadcast to expose criminal activity.
- Deploying a bait car (also called a honey trap) to catch a car thief
- Setting up a seemingly vulnerable honeypot computer to lure and gain information about hackers
- Arranging for someone under the legal drinking age to ask an adult to buy an alcoholic beverage or tobacco products for them
- Passing off explosives (whether fake or real), to a would-be terror bomber
- Posing as...
- someone who is seeking illegal drugs, contraband, or child pornography, to catch a supplier (or as a supplier to catch a customer)
- a child in a chat room to identify a potential child molester
- a potential customer of illegal prostitution, or as a prostitute to catch a customer
- a hitman to catch customers and solicitors of murder-for-hire; or as a customer to catch a hitman
- a spectator of an illegal dog fighting ring
Ethical and legal concerns
Sting operations are fraught with ethical concerns over whether they constitute entrapment. Law-enforcement may have to be careful not to provoke the commission of a crime by someone who would not otherwise have done so. Additionally, in the process of such operations, the police often engage in the same crimes, such as buying or selling contraband, soliciting prostitutes, etc. In common law jurisdictions, the defendant may invoke the defense of entrapment.
Contrary to popular misconceptions, however, entrapment does not prohibit undercover police officers from posing as criminals or denying that they are police. Entrapment is typically a defense only when suspects are pressured into being implicated in a crime they would probably not have committed otherwise, but the legal definition of this pressure varies greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
For example, if undercover officers coerced a potential suspect into manufacturing illegal drugs to sell them, the accused could use entrapment as a defense. However, if a suspect is already manufacturing drugs and police pose as buyers to catch them, entrapment usually has not occurred.
Sting operations in popular culture
(The term "sting" was popularized by the 1973 Robert Redford and Paul Newman movie The Sting, though the film is not about a police operation: it features two grifters and their attempts to con a mob boss out of a large sum of money.)
In 1998, three agencies joined forces to conduct a sting operation where they successfully recovered the Honduras Goodwill Moon Rock from a vault in Miami. The sting operation was known as "Operation Lunar Eclipse" and the participating agencies were NASA Office of Inspector General, the United States Postal Inspection Service and U.S. Customs. The moon rock was offered to the undercover agents for $5 million. Journalist Christina Reed broke that story in Geotimes in 2002. Operation Lunar Eclipse and the Moon Rock Project were the subject of the book The Case of the Missing Moon Rocks by Joe Kloc.
- Advance-fee scam
- Anuranjan Jha, an Indian journalist known for investigative sting journalism
- The Case of the Missing Moon Rocks
- Edison divorce torture plot
- Fence (criminal)
- Honey trapping
- Honeypot (computing)
- Mr. Big (police procedure)
- Murder of Rachel Hoffman, the execution of a police informant during a sting operation
- Narada Sting Operation
- Stephen Joseph Ratkai, arrested and convicted of espionage in Canada after a successful sting operation
- Greenslade, Roy (2 June 2013). "Journalism: to sting or not to sting?" – via www.theguardian.com.
- "Watch: FBI Targets American Muslims in Abusive Counterterrorism "Sting Operations"". The Huffington Post.
- Swedish Supreme Court, verdict B 5039-06.
- "Palm Springs, Coachella Valley – Weather, News, Sports: Special Report: Local police crack down on adults buying booze for minors". kesq.com. Archived from the original on January 15, 2009.
- "What Is Entrapment?". Slate.
- Christina Reed (September 2002). "Moon rocks for sale!". Geotimes. American Geological Institute. Archived from the original on 2003-05-18.
- Joseph Richard Gutheinz (November 2004). "In Search of the Goodwill Moon Rocks: A Personal Account". Geotimes. American Geological Institute.