If the Carroll County Drug Task Force has any value, it ought to demonstrate it by shutting the open-air drug market operating in the 100 block of South Center Street in Westminster.
Action by the task force would come too late for Gregory Lamont Howard, the 22-year old who was gunned down there on the night of Jan. 29, but it won't be soon enough for the other residents of the neighborhood.
Since last fall, people living in nearby townhouses have alerted police to rampant drug dealing near their homes. The drug task force made several arrests, but drug dealers continue to operate in the most brazen fashion.
The time has come to send an unmistakable message to dealers and their customers that they are not welcome.
The South Center Street drug market consists of dealers standing on corners selling drugs to customers who cruise by in their cars. Going after the dealers has been the drug task force's primary strategy. Since the killing, police have stepped up their efforts and made several arrests. They should continue to disrupt drug dealing at all times of day and night.
The second part of the strategy should be directed toward the customers who are soliciting drugs. Drug task force officers, or other undercover officers, should pose as street dealers and detain anyone who approaches them asking for drugs. After a couple of well-publicized stings, the middle-class drug customers -- who are as much to blame as the sellers for the scourge of drug dealing in Westminster -- will stay away from South Center Street.
A quick show of force would also be a signal to this community that the police are being responsive to their complaints.
If the drug market is allowed to flourish, it will have a corrosive effect on the entire area. Children will not be able to play outside. Law-abiding citizens will eventually move out. The streets will be left to the drug dealers.
As many other communities know too well, once drug dealing becomes entrenched in a neighborhood, it becomes, like a stain, extremely difficult to remove. On South Center Street, time is running out. Driving drug dealers and their customers from that neighborhood should be the drug task force's immediate priority.