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In law enforcement, a sting operation is a deceptive operation designed to catch a person committing a crime. A typical sting will have a law-enforcement officer or cooperative member of the public play a role as criminal partner or potential victim and go along with a suspect's actions to gather evidence of the suspect's wrongdoing.
Sting operations are fraught with ethical concerns over whether they constitute entrapment. Law-enforcement may have to be careful not to provoke the commission of a crime by someone who would not otherwise have done so. Additionally, in the process of such operations, the police often engage in the same crimes, such as buying or selling contraband, soliciting prostitutes, etc. In common law jurisdictions, the defendant may invoke the defense of entrapment.
Contrary to popular misconceptions, however, entrapment does not prohibit undercover police officers from posing as criminals or denying that they are police. Entrapment is typically only a defense if a suspect is pressured into committing a crime they would probably not have committed otherwise, though the legal definition of this pressure varies greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. For example, if undercover officers coerced a potential suspect into manufacturing illegal drugs to sell them, then the accused could use entrapment as a defense. However, if a suspect is already manufacturing drugs and police pose as buyers to catch him, then entrapment usually has not occurred.
The term "sting" was popularized by the 1973 Robert Redford and Paul Newman movie The Sting, although the film is not about a police operation: it features two grifters and their attempts to con a mob boss out of a large sum of money.