Kelly Fultz came all the way from Strasburg, Va., Saturday to see his first rock concert at Merriweather Post Pavilion, but although he is a stranger to Howard County, he knew he'd be watched by the police.
"Oh, yeah, there are undercover cops all over the place. We all know that," said Fultz, 21, who came out along with 10,000 other fans to see the bands Poison and Slaughter. "If you do drugs here, they'llget you. I just drink beer."
Ten members of the Howard County police undercover narcotics section were out in full garb Saturday -- complete with bandannas, rock T-shirts and unshaven faces -- to kick off their fourth straight year of concert drug-busting in the Columbia pavilion's parking lots.
But this year, police think the message has gotten through the grapevine that doing drugs at Merriweather will get you not only high but arrested.
Only four people were arrested on possession of marijuana charges Saturday, in contrast to the 12 to 20 arrests that police typically expect to make at such a large turnout at Merriweather.
"There seems to be a changing attitude about doing drugs here, and I think it's because people are a little more paranoid about being arrested by an undercover officer," said Lt. E. Lawrence Knutson, the head of the undercover drug unit.
The unit, which patrols the pavilion'sparking lot, "is hopefully scaring away the people who come here to sell drugs at the concerts," Knutson said.
Last summer, police arrested 75 people on drug charges, with most being charged with attempting to sell cocaine, marijuana, and hallucinogens LSD and PCP.
Police and pavilion administrators, however, are optimistic that drug deals will be less and less common at the pavilion this summer.
The 14,000-seat pavilion has its own security force working the stage area while county police work the parking lot, which traditionally is a big party area before and after the shows.
Police in the parking lot have gotten an unintentional helping hand from T-shirt hawkers, who on Saturday walked about and warned concertgoers not to break out any drugs because police were scouring the area.
Among those waiting in the parking lot Saturday was 71-year-old Martha Mathews of FallsChurch, Va., who read "Good Housekeeping" while her 29-year-old daughter, who has a physical handicap and can't drive a car, watched the concert with a friend.
Mathews, who said she thought "Poison" and "Slaughter" were poor choices for band names, said the concertgoers "seem like pretty clean kids, even though I think they could do with alittle less drinking."
This year, concert headliners include Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon, Huey Lewis and the News and Julio Iglesias, most of whom could scarcely be considered as attractions for the drug crowd.
But also performing will be Jimmy Buffet and the Allman Brothers, whose performances in past years have been accompanied by largenumbers of arrests by undercover officers.
Jean Parker, the general manager of the privately owned pavilion, said most rock fans in the Mid-Atlantic region have gotten word that Merriweather has tight security and "is trying to discourage drug use of any kind."
Parker said many of the performers at the pavilion in recent years have alsorequested few or no alcoholic drinks to be provided for band membersbackstage.
"Hopefully, that kind of an attitude is spilling over to their fans as well," Parker said.