May 14, 2010
Sedalia police officer Lynnette Overstreet on Friday told the Pettis County Pachyderm Club about her experience working undercover for eight months as part of a sting operation that led to 28 arrests of suspected local drug dealers.
Working under the alias “Erin,” Overstreet purchased a variety of narcotics from each of the suspects on multiple occasions over the course of the investigation, which concluded with a one-day warrant sweep netting nearly 30 arrests last December.
She fielded questions from Pachyderm Club members Friday about her experiences working undercover, some of the moments when she was most nervous about her cover being compromised and what she learned about the local drug trade during the operation.
Overstreet, a former college educator and coach, said she was always interested in joining either the military or law enforcement, but she never predicted how she would enter the field.
Although she was initially a bit hesitant about participating in the undercover operation, which was her first assignment upon being hired out of the police academy, she agreed to do it because of the immediate effect she could have on the city.
“I decided there was no other way that I could make as immediate and overwhelming impact in the community as the opportunity to be an undercover police officer,” Overstreet said.
In order to protect Overstreet, few people were aware of the undercover operation as it was ongoing. Among those who knew were the few city employees who handled payroll, Cmdr. John Rice who helped keep her reports secret and three members of the department’s STING unit.
“Believe me that is hard to keep secret by the time you do payroll,” said Police Chief John DeGonia. “You have to do everything it takes to keep somebody under and do those things. I think it went really well with an amazing 28 people (arrested).”
The department’s operation targeted street-level drug activities, so Overstreet said while undercover, she made contact with people at bars and other public places to work her way into several different social circles. She tried to keep her interactions with the suspects in public locations so the officers backing her up could keep an eye on what was going on.
She said she was questioned about whether she was an officer a few times over the course of the operation, but her training taught her how to deal with those potentially dangerous situations.
“I would have to use some of the techniques I learned to just play it off,” Overstreet said. “It’s a lot like acting, just putting yourself right in that role and being that person without being that person.”
She said the suspects she dealt with comprised a wide variety of people, ranging in ages, backgrounds and neighborhoods.
“I bought anywhere, everywhere, all over the city; there is not a specific place or specific type or specific person.
Drugs affect the community all over,” she said.
Judge Robert Liston said the documents he reviewed as part of the application for warrants showed the bravery Overstreet demonstrated during her time working undercover.
“The probable cause statements I read indicated a very courageous young woman who put herself in harm’s way for this town,” Liston said.
Overstreet said the information about suspicious activity provided by local residents played an important role in the investigation. She encouraged local residents to continue to watch for and report such activity to help police combat drugs in the community.
“All I would ask is just to keep supporting your administrators and police department and give us all the intel that you can,” she said.