SUGARLOAF TWP. — Philadelphia police officer Luis Melendez admitted, “When I first started working undercover, I was scared.”
Melendez on Thursday described his first controlled drug buy — paying a corner drug dealer $20 for some crack cocaine. When he returned, his superior asked what the suspect looked like.
“I was so afraid, I was like, ‘I don’t know. Do I have to go back?’ ” Melendez said with a laugh. Dozens of Penn State Hazleton students in the classroom laughed along with him.
Melendez and two other members of Philadelphia’s Dangerous Drug Offenders Unit along with Assistant District Attorney Kalli Badolato, who works closely with them, were guests of state Superior Court President Judge Correale Stevens, who teaches a criminal justice class at the university. Stevens recently worked with the unit on wiretap investigations.
“In discussions with my students here, there is a tremendous interest in how the narcotics units work,” said Stevens, “so I went over wiretap law with them. And I happened to mention to the unit that I had a class and I said, ‘If you guys ever want to come up …’ and they jumped at the chance.”
Badolato moderated the presentation and question-and-answer session that followed.
Detective John Volz spoke about using suspects’ cellphones in investigations — his specialty.
Detective Christopher Tankelewicz, director of the Technical Services Unit, described setting up wire taps, body wires and GPS tracking units hidden in and on suspected drug dealers’ vehicles.
All of them spoke in detail about their drug investigations, techniques and equipment, showing photos on a movie screen. They also showed surveillance video inside a “marijuana grow house” and of a controlled drug buy.
Video is “a great tool because I don’t have to say anything,” Melendez said. “I just have to play the video and the jury is going to watch the guy giving me drugs.”
Catherine Nunez, a 19-year-old political science major from Butler Township, is interested in international law, but she found aspects of criminal law that Badolato talked about “really interesting.” The presentation made her “a little more interested in the criminal law field.”
Edward Hernandez, 21, a New Yorker living in Hazleton as he pursues a letters of arts and sciences degree, said he wants to be a police officer and “came here to learn more about how the job works so I can figure out exactly what field I want to go into. … I learned a lot from this,” he said.