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Deputies do their drugs homework

Two Los Angeles sheriff's deputies who posed as pupils half their age have given an extraordinary account of an undercover operation to bust schoolroom drug dealers, writes Tim Cornwell.

Officer Tim, 29, and Araceli, 30, agreed to tell their tales to the local press - on the condition that only their first names were used.

The pair were recruited from police academy for their baby-faced looks, and immediately re-enlisted in the local Redondo High School. Their anti-narcotics operation was requested by top school officials but kept secret from most of the staff.

They prepared for their roles in jeans and sneakers, reading back copies of Seventeen magazine and watching hours of MTV. They were given false identities and other officers posed as parents.

The two deputies saw teenagers snort lines of cocaine and snatch gulps of vodka at the back of classes. From teenage peddlars they bought LSD, marijuana and speed, the newly fashionable drug of choice on the West Coast, sometimes in deals clinched in the middle of a lesson.

They spent most of the autumn term at Redondo before they left school in a hurry when rumours began circulating that the new kids in town were in fact undercover officers, and they were pelted with apples in a lunch break.

But as a result of their work 17 students were hauled out of class late last year and are now awaiting expulsion and criminal trials.

Their cover was nearly blown when Tim, married with a child, made a marijuana buy that was witnessed by another student, who promptly reported it to a vice principal. The teacher, ignorant of his real identity, suspended him for three days and threatened to expel him - a punishment that would have jeopardised the entire operation, he said.

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