The case of the tainted evidence

May 06, 1994

It now appears that behind the facade of bravado officials erected after the Maryland State Police raid on The Block last January, there was a quiet, professional re-appraisal of the results. We hope so. The agency's review of its drug squad activities is a good first step. Moreover, the decision not to prosecute most of the drug charges filed after the massive show of force in Baltimore's night club district refutes claims it was a successful law enforcement operation.

When questions were raised about the highly-publicized raid by about one-third of the entire State Police force, Gov. William Donald Schaefer and his , former-bodyguard-elevated-to-State-Police- superintendent, Larry W. Tolliver, waved pages of arrest statistics at reporters.

But now prosecutors have withdrawn virtually all the misdemeanor drug possession charges and nearly a third of the felony distribution charges. The evidence for convictions wasn't there: Much of the evidence obtained by the raiders was tainted, either by going beyond the scope of search warrants or in some cases possible misconduct by arresting officers.

Where does that leave us? The Block is still an enclave of sleaze that needs cleaning up, if not eradication. The sordid activities that attracted State Police officials to what's left of Baltimore's once-famous citadel of burlesque continue. Baltimore's overburdened police department could still use some intelligently planned, professionally directed assistance from the State Police in special operations.

So let's get back to real police work. The January raid made great footage on the 11 o'clock news but not much else. In contrast, a city police raid on a notorious narcotics market near North and Greenmount avenues in March -- with one-fifth the officers -- has had a lasting effect. It was followed by other city agencies cleaning up the blighted neighborhood and by an augmented police patrol. Violence has declined sharply. True, the drug trade has moved east into another neighborhood. But law-abiding residents of one urban battlefield have some peace now. Presumably their neighbors' turn will come.

That's the kind of policing Baltimore needs, whether from the state or city police force. It is also the kind of leadership Baltimore deserves, from Annapolis as well as City Hall.

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