Whose Drug Task Force Is It?

May 18, 1993

While the Carroll County Narcotics Task Force may not have $50,000 stashed in a secret fund, as some county employees contended, no one outside the drug task force seems to know much about the finances of this law enforcement group. That is unfortunate. This group must start accounting for the tens of thousands of dollars it has confiscated and allegedly spent since its inception in the late 1980s.

After hearing rumors of thousands of dollars squirreled away in task force accounts, the county commissioners (in need of $10,000 to purchase desperately needed police radios) recently asked for an audit.

County Auditor Tim Hartman did a cursory review, and did not find the rumored money. Instead, he found that the task force had $7,000 in a checking account and $10,000 in a savings account.

The Carroll commissioners may be satisfied that the task force is not accumulating large sums of cash, but they should demand -- and receive -- a more thorough accounting of task force spending. While no county money is regularly appropriated for the task force, money seized in the name of the people of Carroll pays for its operations. The commissioners, who are Carroll's elected representatives, should have oversight of this money.

As currently structured, the task force operates like some shadow government, outside the direct supervision of any elected county official. Unlike other government agencies that are ultimately accountable to elected officials, this group answers to an advisory board of which two members are elected -- State's Attorney Thomas H. Hickman and Sheriff John Brown -- and two are not -- Westminster Police Chief Sam R. Leppo and State Police Sgt. John Burton.

The task force's ambiguous status needs to be clarified. Is it a part of the state's attorney's office, a distinct police agency or a group with no legal standing that need not answer for its actions to anyone outside the advisory board?

The narcotics task force is making arrests, prosecuting drug dealers and seizing money and assets in the name of the people of Carroll County, so these questions need to be answered.

But more immediately, the task force should be providing a regular accounting -- as do similar operations in other jurisdictions -- of the money and assets it confiscates in the course of fighting drugs. Carroll citizens should know what is being done in their names.

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