The number one movie at the box office played out in real life in a California High School last week. The comedy duo in “21 Jump Street” made a joke out of their undercover assignment, but a real-life youthful looking police officer with braces spent the last eight months undercover to bust a high school drug ring in Central California.
The 22-year-old officer used the alias Johnny Ramirez attending classes and blending in among his peers at Exeter Union High School, southeast of Fresno.
Exeter City Manager Randy Groom told ABC News this type of operation is uncommon, but Exeter Police Chief Cliff Bush had been thinking about it after complaints from parents and students of increased drug sales and narcotic use on campus.
“I’ve wanted to do this for the past two three years, but only if I could find the right officer,” he told ABC News.
Finally, Chief Bush found his man, or young man. He said that “it didn’t take much convincing,” to get the brand new Police Academy grad to sign on.
“He is very young looking. He looks 17, and the braces add to the effect. His personality just fit,” he said.
Although they controlled some of his social interaction, Ramirez went to classes and even attended some football games. He was like any regular high school senior–except he wasn’t worried about finding a date to the prom, but rather finding the students responsible for the increase in drug traffic on campus.
Last week, just as “21 Jump Street” premiered in Hollywood, Ramirez, clad in his police uniform, helped arrest 12 students and two non-students in the drug ring. The students ranged in age from 15 to 19 and were charged with selling marijuana, prescription pills and cocaine.
“We hoped it would send a message that we aren’t going to tolerate this type of activity. It is supposed to be a safe environment,” Bush said.
Ramirez assumed the identity of a troubled teen, telling students he was expelled from his former high school. He also told his “friends” he had to leave at lunch every day to help his uncle at work. But in this case his uncle was an investigator at the narcotics lab. That’s where he would do his daily homework assignments.
“The teachers weren’t aware, so he had to maintain his cover. He didn’t want to be the best student but he had to get his work done,” Groom told ABC News.
The officer was from the neighboring town of Visalia, and this was one of the reasons it worked. Exeter has just over 10,000 citizens and most people know one another. Groom says the officer will definitely come into contact with his former classmates.
“He goes out on patrol at the end of this week and he will absolutely see the people he was at school with and the people he busted. That is an absolute given here,” Groom said.
Groom and Bush said they were unaware that the movie was even coming out the same week as the bust. Johnny Ramirez didn’t just succeed in uncovering the drug ring on campus, but his grades also improved from when he was actually in high school.
“He said it was easier the second time around,” Groom added.