Altoona police sting raises ethical dilemma

South Dakota native faces up to 65 years in prison

Madeline Fuerstenberg

More stories from Madeline Fuerstenberg

October 13, 2020


The Altoona Police Department got a potential sexual predator off the streets – but at what cost did this victory come?

The Altoona Police Department arrested a 28-year-old man last week, charging him with felony counts of child enticement, the attempted sexual assault of a child and with the attempted use of a computer to facilitate a child sex crime, according to the Leader-Telegram.

Upon first glance, this is wonderful news: Another predator is off the streets and our community is a little bit safer.

But maybe it’s not that simple.

Last Tuesday, an Altoona police officer responded to Alex Bawek’s Craigslist post. This post advertised Bawek was in the Eau Claire area, and was looking for “a female or couple who wanted to have some fun.”

This alone is creepy, but that’s not the issue.

The officer who responded to this ad posed as a 14-year-old girl, initiating contact with Bawek. After exchanging messages online for some time, the conversation began to grow sexual in nature, according to the criminal complaint. Bawek asked for pictures of the “young girl,” and later arranged to come pick her up.

Upon arriving at the “young girl’s” apartment, Bawek was met by a uniformed police officer and questioned. He admitted his intentions of meeting and having sex with a 14-year-old girl. If Bawek gets convicted of all three charges, he could face up to 65 years in prison.

This is a tough situation. On one hand, Bawek is clearly a creep. On the other hand, he hadn’t actually gone out searching for underage girls. It’s almost as if this officer tricked Bawek into doing something illegal.

I want to be very clear about this: I am not defending Bawek. The fact he was willing to meet up with an underaged girl shows he is clearly a disgusting human being. I just can’t help but wonder whether or not the police officer’s actions were lawful or ethical. Sting operations are not unusual for law enforcement agencies, but this seems off to me.

I’d also like to draw attention to when Bawek asked for a “sexy picture” of the “girl” he was speaking to, the officer actually sent him a photo of a 14-year-old girl in a bikini. Who is this girl, and is she aware that she is being used to entice potential pedophiles?

This is not the only situation in which law enforcement used sting tactics to bait potential criminals. A 2014 article from the Washington Post discussed similar instances in which the Washington, D.C. police went undercover in order to “recruit people they think are likely to commit armed robberies,” stage some sort of heist or crime, then arrest them. These were not actual criminals who were targeted, but people the police thought were “likely” to commit crimes.

This tactic has received harsh criticism from defense attorneys and legal experts who question “whether the police should be encouraging people to commit crimes they might not have otherwise committed by providing invented opportunities and, in some cases, guns and getaway cars.”

Sound a little familiar? It does to me.

Perhaps we aren’t being told the entire story. For all I know, the Altoona police had been suspecting this guy of being a super-mega-creep for months, and they had finally devised a plan to catch him. If that’s the case, they should clarify.

Maybe this is all over my head. Maybe I just don’t know enough about the situation — or about law enforcement tactics — to understand everything that went down. But I challenge you to consider this: Does a man — albeit, a very creepy man — necessarily deserve 65 years in prison for crimes that he was baited into attempting to commit?