An Annapolis lawmaker has sparked a furor by charging that '' police have failed to catch the city's major drug traffickers and calling for a sweeping investigation into drug smuggling in the historic harbor.
Alderman Carl O. Snowden criticized two high-profile crackdowns on street-level drug dealing in recent months for yielding more publicity than arrests. The Ward 5 Democrat is urging city, state and federal investigators to team up to stop suppliers from smuggling drugs.
"Every year, I am told that drugs are smuggled to Annapolis during our various boat shows," Mr. Snowden wrote in a June 15 letter to Police Chief Harold Robbins. "It is a well-known fact that drugs are brought into Annapolis through this means."
The chief defended the drug raids this spring and pointed out that smuggling by boat is only a part of a $100 billion national drug problem. He and other law enforcement officials said more drugs are smuggled into Maryland by state highways and the airport than through small ports.
Mr. Snowden's assertion that drugs are being smuggled into Annapolis' tourist-packed harbor to be distributed along the East Coast has raised a few eyebrows. While some city leaders agreed that it's likely drugs are being smuggled into city marinas, others dismissed the remarks as "idle speculation."
"These are serious charges that Alderman Snowden is just blabbering about," said Alderman John Hammond, R-Ward 1. "I think it's an affront to the city. It's spoken like a true demagogue."
A spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard said he could not substantiate the charge that Annapolis is a major port for smugglers and called drug activity on the Chesapeake Bay "a fragmented thing."
Federal narcotics agents would be "more than happy to do an investigation" if provided with information about drug smuggling, said Frank S. Franco, a spokesman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in Baltimore. And Chief Robbins said, "If Mr. Snowden has intelligence about this, he should come forward."
Mr. Snowden said his information came from law enforcement officials, but he declined to identify his sources. He said he has never witnessed drug activity during the city's annual boat shows. But others have, he said, and raised the issue in previous years.
Alderman Ruth Gray, R-Ward 4, said she remembers hearing about cocaine being smuggled by boats into Annapolis several years ago, but had not heard recent complaints about such a problem. "In a port city with a lot of people going back and forth, it would be an easy thing to do," she said.
Two black community leaders, both of whom did not want to be identified, said many black residents have long felt that police target only small-time dealers in public housing communities.
"People are upset," agreed Mr. Snowden. "Too often the view of drug dealing in the community is limited to the projects. A lot of people believe there's not the same kind of efforts to make a dent in major drug traffickers."
But Chief Robbins said the crackdown on street-level dealing is likely to lead to the arrests of suppliers. In a move to close down the city's open-air drug markets, police conducted two undercover investigations in the past six months. The first resulted in the arrests of a dozen taxi drivers, the second in 43 indictments of alleged small-time dealers.
"This is an opportunity for us to work our way up the supply chain," Chief Robbins said.
He issued a three-page response to Mr. Snowden last week and sent copies to the other aldermen. Although Mr. Snowden said he was not satisfied, most of the other City Council members said they were and did not plan to summon the chief.
"The Police Department have done exactly what they should have done," Mr. Hammond said. "The state is free to come in at any time; the federal government is free to come in. There's no reason to give this city a black eye undeservedly."