Hickman's Self-Indictment

August 24, 1994

Now that the audit of the Carroll County Narcotics Task Force has been completed and released, it is clear that oversight of this operation is long overdue. The audit uncovered examples of sloppy and unacceptable management, accounting and administrative practices.

The most disturbing aspect of the audit was the response from Carroll County State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman, speaking for the task force advisory board, to the auditors' recommendations. Even though the audit pointed out problems relating directly to the lack of appropriate management and budgetary controls, Mr. Hickman blithely denied the existence of these problems or blamed the auditors or some other branch of government for creating them. These are not the answers one would expect from the county's top prosecutor.

The comments on the division of confiscated property were the most glaring example of Mr. Hickman's absurd responses. The auditor pointed out that no written policy exists on how to split the money and the property the task force confiscates from criminal suspects. Mr. Hickman's evasive answer was: "The county commissioners have objected to the division of revenues," because the county government gets no money and the city of Westminster gets half. Mr. Hickman dismissed the complaint as internal squabbling, but failed to address why the task force, after four years of existence, has yet to establish a written policy for dividing confiscated property.

Mr. Hickman's comments on the lack of written policy governing the use of "buybacks" was equally non-responsive. "Buybacks" -- which border on institutional extortion -- allow a person caught with drugs to "buy back" property the task force has confiscated. To say that "there are too many variables. . . to draft formal rigid policies," as Mr. Hickman replied, is a license for arbitrary and capricious law enforcement. The task force's unsuccessful attempt to seize a car after the owner was found to have a microscopic amount of marijuana in a pipe is an example of ad hoc policy-making. Some general guidelines might have prevented this embarrassing incident.

If anything, Mr. Hickman, through his own words, does far more damage to the credibility and integrity of the county's narcotics task force than county auditors could ever have inflicted.

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