Auditing Carroll's Drug Task Force

June 16, 1993

A detailed audit of the financial activities of the Carroll County Narcotics Task Force is long overdue. This police group has been operating for more than four years without publicly disclosing the value of the assets it has seized or obtained through its "buy back" program. Nor has it said how that money was spent.

The Carroll County Commissioners assert there is only one reason for the audit -- to see whether $10,000 of secure radio equipment could be purchased using funds from the task force's seized assets. After the commissioners heard rumors that the task force had a $50,000 "slush fund," they asked for a cursory accounting.

But Carroll County State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman, who sits on the task force's four-member board of directors, quickly assured the commissioners the task force had not secreted away tens of thousands of dollars. He didn't offer to open the books for the commissioners, though.

If there is not a lot of money involved and the audit could be done "in an afternoon," as task force coordinator Barton F. Walker III asserts, why have the men running the operation resisted any examination of its accounts?

The narcotics task force may not have anything to hide, but the secrecy surrounding its money generates reasonable suspicion. There have been too many instances around the country of drug enforcement officials being corrupted by the large amounts of money involved in drug trafficking. Full disclosure would assure that all financial activity of the Carroll County Narcotics Task Force is aboveboard.

The genius of the American system of government -- from the national level to the local level -- is the use of checks and balances to curb the power of any branch of government. Any public agency, regardless of its mission, should be open to examination by some other arm of that government. And the findings should be available to the public.

The commissioners don't have to apologize for asking for this audit: a public accounting is past due. Because the task force acts in the name of the people of this county, it owes the commissioners -- the elected representatives of Carroll's citizens -- an explanation of its revenues and spending.

Other Maryland jurisdictions with similar interagency drug task force groups have had no trouble annually disclosing to the public their financial operations. Carroll's Narcotics Task Force should be able to do the same.

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