(CBS/AP) EXETER, Calif. - A rookie California cop will begin his duties as a regular patrol officer this week after getting national attention for his first big case - working undercover for eight months in a "21 Jump Street" style high school drug bust.
Exeter Police officer Alex Salinas, undercover by the name Johnny Ramirez, bought drugs from a dozen classmates before Chief Cliff Bush decided to end the ruse as end-of-year testing began.
The Los Angeles Times reports the arrested students were between ages 15 and 19 and have been booked on various charges including selling drugs within 1,000 feet of a school, possession of a controlled substance, conspiracy and accessory.
City Manager Randy Groom said the officer was plucked out of the police academy specifically for the drug operation because of his youthful appearance. The 22-year-old officer wears braces, which also helped him look the part.
The city had been considering an undercover operation "for a while" after receiving complaints from residents about drugs on campus. Groom said while the officer was enrolled as a student, only the district superintendent, school principal and one counselor were made aware of his identity.
Salinas told students that he had been expelled from a neighboring school district and that he had to leave campus at lunch every day to help his uncle run a business. However, he was actually leaving to report to work at the narcotics lab.
The chief was surprised at the attention of the drug arrests until he learned the busts were coinciding with the debut of the movie "21 Jump Street," in which undercover cops fight crime in a school.
Salinas said students at the school were shocked when he showed up on campus in his police uniform instead of a T-shirt and sneakers. Groom said the officer was able to make purchases within the first weeks of school, but his cover was almost blown on the first day of school when a teacher, who had no knowledge of the situation, pointed to the new kid and joked that the class had "an undercover narc officer" in the room.