By Alex Fees
Bellefontaine Neighbors, MO (KSDK) - A St. Louis County police undercover sting operation designed to help protect delivery drivers is yielding results police were not expecting.
Tuesday night, an undercover officer posing as a pizza delivery driver police arrested a 21-year-old man for possession of marijuana and narcotics. A search of his home netted $2,000 in cash and a firearm.
The purpose of the undercover operation in north St. Louis County was to protect delivery drivers after two were murdered in robberies this year. Wednesday morning police, pizza, and other delivery companies held a "best practices" forum, where they exchanged ideas and information about problem areas.
St. Louis County Officer Randy Vaughn said the targets of such robberies are often pizza, cash, and cell phones.
"This is not an uncommon crime," said Vaughn. "It's a robbery crime where small amounts of cash are taken. But in last two years, this has taken a violent turn where two people have been shot. And that is unacceptable. We're not going to sit back and watch that happen without at least being involved in some way."
Since Friday night, undercover officers have been working with pizza delivery companies, posing as delivery drivers if a call seems suspicious. The program was never designed to capture other criminals.
"This gentleman that was arrested was a bad guy, he had an extensive criminal history," said Vaughn.
Monday, Police Chief Tim Fitch said one purpose of the undercover operation is to provide a safer business environment in north St. Louis County.
Vaughn said topics at the delivery forum Wednesday included whether the robbery of delivery drivers is happening at certain times of day, or in certain areas.
"There are situations where certain streets and certain areas cannot have a pizza delivered," said Vaughn. "A great number of the people who live in these areas are good people. And we don't want a couple criminals making decisions for pizza companies."
Domino's franchisee Mark Ratterman said if his employees get a delivery order on a cell phone that is not in their system, they'll ask the customer to pick up the pizza for carry-out. Then when the customer arrives, employees will register the phone number for future orders.
"If we think it's suspicious we'll do call-backs and confirm," said Ratterman. "And if we think it's at-risk we won't deliver it."
Pizza delivery is a competitive business.
"We're going to work together with all the other franchises," said Ratterman. "We're all competitors but we're all going to work together to share information. And if there's an issue with a certain street we're going to share it with everybody else."
Officer Vaughn added, "I think the word is getting out not only to pizza companies but also to people that are considering causing trouble that if a pizza is being delivered, it may be a police officer delivering it."