Police Adopt Unusual Tactics To Ferret Out Drug Dealers

Valentine's Flower And Candy Delivery Is Investigators' Latest Ruse

February 21, 1991|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,Staff writer

When county police narcotic investigators played Cupid last week as a ploy to serve arrest warrants, it was a unique tactic to boost dwindling arrests.

In the constant battle of wits between drug dealers, users and the law, area police officials are finding it more and more necessary to spruce up old arrest tactics to stymie trafficking.

Gone -- almost -- are the days when undercover narcs could park themselves in strategic spots and wait to be approached. Gone are the days when police could simply track down a suspect and serve the warrant without disguising themselves.

On Valentine's Day, officers posed as flower and candy deliverymen. Armed with a list of outstandingdrug warrants, they set out with candy and flowers and knocked on doors. Six people spent the most romantic day of the year in the detention center.

"They are changing their tactics and so are we," said county narcotics Detective Tom McFarland, one of the officers who posed as flower and candy deliverymen. "This will last only a few times and then we will have to change it."

It's hard even for diligent detectives to find a source; when they do, that source might lead themto fake goods.

Drug dealers are closing ranks, using less-blatantsales pitches. Area arrest figures reflect that.

In Anne Arundel last year, police arrested 1,311 adults and juveniles for possession or distribution of narcotics. In 1989, they arrested 1,496.

That 12 percent drop mirrors a decline in surrounding jurisdictions.

In neighboring Prince George's County, where 45 of 122 homicides in 1990were narcotics-related, drug arrest figures dropped 25 percent in 1990.

"Before it was easy for our guys, even on day work, to make 10or 15 arrests," said Prince George's County police Lt. Scott Dunklee, who commands the street narcotic section. "Cars would be backed up

in the neighborhoods."

It takes creativity these days to make a simple drug arrest. Dunklee's officers have ridden up to dealers on bicycles, making themselves look less suspicious. "They always expect the cops to ride up in cars," he said.

Baltimore County police are also showing a drop in arrest figures, from 2,322 in 1989 to 1,769 in 1990. Montgomery County fell from 2,660 in 1989 to 1,589 last year. Howard County police arrested 823 in 1990 compared to 1,003 the year before.

"We think they may have gone inside," Montgomery County police spokesman Sgt. Harry Geehreng said. "There is no question that there are drug deals going on."

In addition to their Valentine's Daysting, Anne Arundel police have posed as pizza deliverymen to serve warrants and hidden behind bushes in certain neighborhoods to catch dealers and users.

But that's all part of the game, O'Toole says, and it does make the job interesting.

"It keeps (the dealers) from getting too comfortable," he said. "It goes to show not everyone is who they appear to be."

Nowadays, some investigators say, anyone looking for drugs almost needs a formal introduction to the dealers.

"You have to be a known customer," Anne Arundel narcotics Sgt. Dennis O'Toole said.

The move from outside to inside, from runners on the street who carry the drugs to dealers doing their own selling, forces investigators to play the game differently.

"It's a cat-and-mouse game, a never-ending cycle," McFarland said.

When dealers moved inside, police began depending on search warrants. The dealers madea counter move.

"People were holding onto a pocketful, hiding it in the bushes or stashing it somewhere outside," O'Toole said. "So itwas useless to get a search warrant if they weren't holding it in the house."

To divert the attention of the dealers, Prince George's County police brought a hearse into a well-known open-air drug market. After undercover officers made their buys, police drove the hearse into the neighborhood. The dealers stared at it for a second, then continued with their trade until officers jumped out the back screaming, "You're under arrest."

Police confiscated $96,000 in crack during that operation.

While everyone has their theories, no one is sure why arrests have declined. Some investigators say the supply of drugs is dwindling; others disagree, saying people are just changing brands according to availability.

"I really think a concentrated effort in most counties, combined with federal and state efforts and the education in schools, has had some effect," former narcotics Lt. GaryLyle said.

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