Criminal Justice

Armed robbery stings in DC spur convictions and drop in crime rate, police say

Police in Washington, D.C., say their armed-robbery sting operations have partly contributed to a decline of more than 25 percent in robberies since the beginning of the year.

The Washington Post gathered information about the high-risk stings from court filings and trial testimony. The goal is to infiltrate small groups of violent armed robbers who are willing to help rob liquor stores. More than a dozen men have been convicted in federal court in the last two years as a result of the stings.

In one sting operation, an undercover officer met his target, Pablo Lovo, through a police source, the Post says. The undercover cop said he was looking for a crew to help rob a businessman who smuggled cocaine. On the night of the planned robbery, the getaway car was stocked with machetes and guns.

The undercover cop told the crew who showed up to help in the robbery that it would be “cool” if they changed their minds, but none backed out. As they waited in a room for the signal to begin the operation, there was a flash of light and a loud bang. A SWAT team moved in to arrest the men.

At Lovo’s trial in May, Lovo’s lawyer said the government had created the crime and it was fiction. Lovo testified he planned to sell guns but didn’t intend to take part in the robbery. Lovo and two others were convicted of conspiracy, while two others pleaded guilty.

Critics complain that the sting operations could be ensnaring people who wouldn’t have committed a crime without the government’s lure. Benjamin N. Cardozo law professor Katharine Tinto tells the Post that the government controls the fake crime to allow for a federal conspiracy charge, which allows for steep penalties.

“When you have the government offering guns or the getaway car and making it really attractive, you have to ask: Is this an opportunity that would have really come around in real life? Would this person have been able to put together this type of crime without government assistance?” Tinto asks.

The story notes that federal judges in California have tossed indictments in two cases involving sting operations staged by U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. In the stings, government informants suggest to targets that they rob a drug stash house.

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