From Tampa Bay Times:

A former undercover officer who now teaches criminal justice echoed the explanation from the Sheriff’s Office, saying she considers gun buys the most dangerous of undercover meetups because officers aren’t in control.

“Any operation that’s in public in the middle of the afternoon is far from ideal,” said Jillian Snider, a former officer with the New York Police Department and now a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. “But sometimes law enforcement just don’t have a choice.”

Snider, who worked on undercover operations for more than a decade, said she doesn’t believe it was the deputies’ decision to meet in a mall parking lot.

As buyers in this transaction, they probably had little say in where the sale would happen, she said. Too much pushback about the time and place and they risked scaring the sellers away and ruining the operation.

Aside from lack of control, another reason gun buys are so dangerous is that undercover officers are typically unarmed while dealing with suspects who carry weapons, Snider said.

An ideal setting for such an operation, she said, would be at night where a “ghost team” of officers could hide in plain sight — a place like a mall parking lot after hours, away from large groups of people but not completely isolated like in an open field.

Still, Snider said, the safety of civilians is more important than any single gun buy. If the sellers insisted on a daytime buy at a mall, delaying the operation was worth considering, she said.

“The operations I worked on were completely different from gun buys,” said Snider, who often went undercover as a prostitute to catch men who abused them. “But we always shut down entire streets and removed all civilians from the area before proceeding. You have to eliminate as much risk as possible because the public comes first.”

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