Squeezing Off Drugs in Annapolis

May 23, 1991

Efforts to squeeze off the illicit drug trade in poorer neighborhoods has historically been dominated by police undercover activity. Increasingly, though, community residents are getting into the act. Consider the situation in Annapolis where police are bracing for a turf war between local drug dealers and rivals from New York. Community residents are supplying police with physical descriptions, locations and even automobile license numbers of out-of-state drug merchants preying upon their communities.

Some of these leads may be emanating from local dealers attempting to protect their markets. But police say most are coming from frightened community residents eager to avert gunplay in their housing projects. To date, these efforts have resulted in only a handful of arrests, but they signal a much-needed wind shift in the war on drugs. Too often, those who live in narcotics-infested neighborhoods are powerless to keep themselves and loved ones out of harm's way and, worse, wrongly pegged by outsiders as willing participants in the drug trade.

That communities have a role to play in halting the flow of drugs and bloodshed is painfully obvious. But such participation necessarily begs action and encouragement from local law enforcement officials. Local citizens complain that they are not seeing enough arrests given the wealth of information they've been providing. Community leaders say police don't want to blow undercover operations on small time dealers. Police, meanwhile, cite legal considerations that preclude them from making arrests in cases where they discover drugs on the person of an individual being stopped on, say, a weapons violation.

These obstacles must not be allowed to stand in the way of community efforts to fight drugs. While foot patrols act as useful deterrents to crime, they add up to considerably less than what is needed to choke off the flow of illegal narcotics. Police must be committed not only to going after dealers of all stripes, but to apprehending as well affluent users who also account for much of the demand.

Already, such options as videotaping drug transactions, turning in known players and traveling patrols are being seriously discussed in several communities. While dealing with illicit drugs is clearly a police matter, local communities can be of immeasurable help in identifying and shutting down the lawless entrepreneurs who prey on their neighborhoods.

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