Hickman's Boomerang Strategy

July 14, 1994

By zealously fighting to prevent any oversight of the Carroll County Narcotics Task Force, State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman has jeopardized its very existence.

Unless some workable agreement is crafted soon, Westminster's top elected officials are prepared to pull the city out of this cooperative undercover drug enforcement effort.

Despite his attempt to portray himself as a victim of unscrupulous political machinations in the county, Mr. Hickman has only himself to blame for this unhappy state of affairs. For the past 16 months, Mr. Hickman has arrogantly resisted a thorough audit of the narcotics task force books. While professing that there was nothing to hide, the state's attorney made it difficult for the county auditors to complete their work.

This stubbornness disturbed Westminster Police Chief Sam Leppo, the custodian of the task force's books and seized property. Chief Leppo's inclination was to cooperate and get the audit over as quickly as possible. Cooperation was not in Mr. Hickman's game plan, though. The state's attorney thought that if he resisted, the commissioners and the auditors would give up and the whole issue would die down.

The opposite happened. Mr. Hickman's intransigence brought more attention to the operations of the task force, its forfeiture practices and his refusal to cooperate with the auditors.

The negative publicity began to add up and take a heavy political toll. Worried that the task force controversy might damage his campaign for county commissioner, Westminster Mayor W. Benjamin Brown voiced his unhappiness about the agency. Aggravated by repeated inquiries from auditors, Chief Leppo said he would no longer serve as custodian for seized property.

Realizing that the narcotics task force's future could be in jeopardy, Mr. Hickman has proposed redrafting the agreement creating the task force, offering concessions he stubbornly refused to make in the past. Rather than use proceeds from seizures to underwrite the task force activities, Mr. Hickman is prepared to ask for annual appropriations from the county. He also proposes the task force be regularly audited.

If these promising proposals are adopted, there would be a lot more oversight of Carroll's narcotics task force. Instilling some measure of accountability would help put an end to some outrageous task force practices and increase its effectiveness.

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