Sting operation  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

In law enforcement, a sting operation is a deceptive operation designed to catch a person committing a crime. A typical sting will have a law-enforcement officer or cooperative 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.



  • Purchasing illegal drugs to catch a supplier
  • Deploying a bait car (also called a honey trap) to catch an auto thief
  • Setting up a seemingly vulnerable honeypot computer to lure and gain information about crackers.
  • Posing as someone who is seeking child pornography to catch a supplier
  • Posing as a supplier of child pornography to catch a buyer
  • Posing as a child in a chat room to lure a child molester
  • Police arranging someone under the legal drinking age to ask an adult to buy alcoholic beverage for him or her
  • Police also may ask a minor to attempt to purchase liquor, or cigarettes, without showing ID.
  • An undercover officer posing as a potential customer to bust a prostitute.
  • An undercover officer posing as a prostitute to bust a potential "customer".
  • Pose as a terrorist to catch terrorists
  • Pose as a member of a hate group to catch members of hate groups
  • Pose as a "Eco-Terrorist" to catch eco-terrorists. See Operation Backfire (FBI)
  • Pose as militia members, tax protesters to catch domestic terrorists

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 normally be inclined to do so. Additionally, in the process of such operations, the police often engage in the same so-called crimes, often victimless, such as buying or selling contraband, soliciting prostitutes, etc. In common law jurisdictions, the defendant may invoke the defense of entrapment.

For example, in the case of a drug sting if the police put pressure upon a person to sell drugs who initially refuses but is persuaded to do so then they could be seen as entrapping. However should the police indicate they wish to purchase drugs and a person offers to sell them, then there is no entrapment.

Sting operations in popular culture

The 1973 Robert Redford and Paul Newman film, The Sting, centers on two grifters and their attempts to con a mob boss through a type of sting operation.

Recently, Larry Craig, a Republican senator from Idaho, was caught in a sex sting operation at a Minnesota airport. Craig was purportedly soliciting sex in a men's bathroom when he was arrested by an undercover policeman In August of 2007, he filed a guilty plea for disorderly conduct. He professed to have been wrongly pressured into entering the plea, however, and on September 10th filed a request to withdraw his guilty plea. His petition for withdrawal was rejected by the Minnesota court system, although Craig remains steadfast in his insistence to finish out the rest of his term even amid the scandal and allegations. A Senate ethics committee will likely be formed to investigate his behavior.

Several novels and short stories by science fiction author Philip K. Dick, such as A Scanner Darkly, revolve around sting operations that have gotten out of hand.

Season Three of the TV series 24 has its entire main plot focused on a sting operation and its unforeseen consequences.

In the Sonic the Hedgehog issues from Archie Comics, the Freedom Fighters were involved a sting operation against several of their foes.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Sting operation" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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