The investigation has drawn follow-up coverage from ABC and CNN, though it hasn’t made the paper any friends among officialdom in Sunrise. O’Matz, Maines, and colleague Susannah Bryan reported over the weekend that the department’s undercover stings had been halted. The city’s mayor, who supports the stings, said that move was made because the paper exposed police tactics and strategy. One commissioner accused the Sun Sentinel at a public meeting of doing “a great service” to “the criminal community.”

That criticism is misguided. The investigation raised important questions—and not just about Sunrise. All law enforcement agencies have an incentive to make a profit on drug busts, especially in “reverse stings” like the ones Sunrise was conducting. And even if you don’t give much weight to civil liberties concerns, and view the department’s motivations in the most charitable light, it’s appropriate for members of the community to know about—and have an opportunity to debate—the extraordinary tactics used by local police. Without oversight, things can go awry—as seems to have happened at other departments.

The Sun Sentinel’s work here was detailed, comprehensive, thoughtful, and compelling. It was a big journalistic result after a big investment of resources—exactly what the paper’s editor says he wants to see.

Follow @USProjectCJR for more posts from this author and the rest of the United States Project team.

 

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Susannah Nesmith is a Miami-based freelance writer and the faculty adviser to Barry University's student newspaper, The Barry Buccaneer. Follow her on Twitter @susannahnesmith.