SAN DIEGO - Team 10 got a tip from a concerned mother that you can buy a crack pipe at local discount stores even though it's against the law. Team 10 went undercover to find out if this is happening.
A Team 10 member went to the V Outlet Store in Hillcrest and asked for an oil burner, a code word for crack pipes. The clerk asked him what size and handed him a black plastic bag containing a small glass pipe.
Drug experts said the pipes are used to smoke crack and meth. Police and drug counselors said the pipes are most commonly referred to as "crack pipes," even though the pipes also are used for meth. It is against the law for these stores to sell drug paraphernalia under the California Health and Safety Code.
Team 10 showed the director and an outreach counselor at the Palavra Tree Treatment Center in San Diego the pipes we were able to purchase for less than $3 each.
"There needs to be sanctions," said outreach specialist Judy Patterson. "The stores need to be penalized. They need to be shut down. We need to go back to what we did in 2007."
The city cracked down on the sale of crack and meth pipes at stores in 2007 after a two-year investigation. A letter was sent to businesses warning them to stop selling the pipes and two shop owners were later convicted. The treatment center worked with the city to bring down the stores selling crack pipes.
"No neighborhood is sacred anymore," said Patterson. No neighborhood is safe as long as this is still happening. It's like history is repeating itself."
Team 10 told members of the Latino Youth Council, an anti-drug and alcohol group, about what the stores sold us.
Fifteen-year-old Lynn Long and 17-year-old Anthony Romaro were also able to go into the V Outlet Store in Hillcrest and walk out with a crack pipe.
"I asked for an oil burner," said Long. "It was under the counter in a black bag, she put it in the bag very quickly and we walked out."
The members of the Latino Youth Council had their parent's permission before working with Team 10 on the undercover story. They said they couldn't believe how easy it was to buy to the pipe.
"I feel like they don't even care," said Romero. "It was very casual and they saw us with their backpacks, so they know we are students."
In addition to the Hillcrest location, Team 10 members were able to buy crack pipes at V Outlet Stores in the Gaslamp District, Clairemont and Pacific Beach.
The teenagers said they want to put an end to stores selling drug paraphernalia.
"This is happening and we should stop it," said Long.
A clerk at the Hillcrest location told Team 10 they do not sell the pipes and nothing is kept under the register.
Below is an update to the original story, filed Tuesday, 5:20 pm:
A spokesman for the San Diego City Attorney's office told Team 10, "Our office will file a criminal complaint when we have sufficient evidence to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt."
Through an email, the city attorney spokesperson added, "We suggest that people who have information about criminal activity provide that information to the police for investigation."
A spokesperson for San Diego police said the department's hands are tied because the pipes can have other uses, such as incense burning or to be used as a vase.
"This item in and of itself would not be considered illegal," the police spokesperson said.
Mike Aguirre, a former city attorney, cracked down on stores for selling these exact items because it is illegal to sell them under state law. Aguirre said the first step should be sending a letter to the stores asking them to stop, like he did.
An agent for the stores was reached Tuesday afternoon, and he said he would also contact the owner.
As of Tuesday evening, Team 10 was still waiting for a return call from the owner.