Basic civics for the drug task force CARROLL COUNTY

December 20, 1993

While the long-awaited audit of the Carroll County Narcotics Task Force turned up no financial irregularities, the tortuous process to complete it has angered at least one county commissioner. Julia W. Gouge, normally even-tempered and cautious in her public remarks, issued some rather scathing comments about the task force's efforts to escape scrutiny. She also raised a number of legitimate issues about the task force's accountability and legal status that require answers.

Members of Carroll's Narcotics Task Force are under the erroneous impression that because a great deal of their work involves undercover activities, they don't have to account for the money and assets they seize.

They could not be more mistaken.

Even though the task force may not be financing its operations with taxpayer funds, it is acting in the name of the people of this county. Anyone who has taken an eighth-grade civics class understands that any branch of government, no matter how clandestine its operations, is subject to oversight by other branches of government. That is why the Congress oversees the Central Intelligence Agency and the General Assembly oversees the Maryland State Police.

Even though the task force draws members from the State Police, Westminster City police and the county Sheriff's Office, it functions as a police organization. Because it has county-wide authority, it operates as if it were part of the county's executive branch. The commissioners, who are the top executives of the county, have every right to examine its operations. In their legislative capacity, the commissioners also have ultimate authority over this money.

Ever since an audit was suggested last spring, the task force has resisted an independent inquiry into its financial operations.

This is in stark contrast to the Frederick County Drug Task Force, which routinely has an outside auditor review its books for a public report. That task force also operates under state police supervision.

Judging from the comments on the audit's findings, the task force continues to believe it is an authority unto itself. The time has come to clarify the task force's legal status and its authority over seized assets.

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