Drug Sweeps Must Continue

June 28, 1995

Neither a backlog in the court docket nor crowding in the jails should stop Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier from continuing his drug sweeps in crime-infested Baltimore neighborhoods. Too often such raids do little more than provide publicity footage on local TV for police departments that want the public to think they are effectively combating drug dealers. That is not the case here. By targeting the same neighborhoods again and again, Mr. Frazier is making them safer.

Just last week he held the third raid in little over a month in the Broadway East community. No one is saying that drug dealing there has come to a halt. But it isn't as blatant. Enough of the low-level pushers have been arrested to make an impact. It would be good to see the same aggressive approach taken with the street dealers' suppliers.

But the massive drug sweeps have overwhelmed the city's Circuit Court. It is on a pace to handle 7,482 felony defendants this year. That's 1,600 more cases than 1994. Somehow enough judges and attorneys have to be found to deal with the additional workload. It serves little purpose to arrest these people and not have enough judges, public defenders and state's attorneys to try them.

Correspondingly, a solution has to be found to the city's jail overflow problem. Already the state's new Central Booking and Intake Facility has been opened early as a holding site for women prisoners because there's no room in the jam-packed Baltimore City Detention Center. The high-tech booking facility cannot continue to be used in this fashion. It would thwart Chief Frazier's plans to move more officers from administrative duties, such as booking, and put them on the streets.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has promised to find some way to address the impact of the drug sweeps on the rest of the criminal justice system without ending the raids. Chief Judge Robert C. Murphy of the Court of Appeals has said he will recruit more retired judges to hear cases in Baltimore. That needs to happen quickly.

And the state must find acceptable alternatives for housing inmates quickly, too. One solution is to renew the request for state funds to put prosecutors and defense attorneys in the new booking facility. That would allow immediate pleas to be made and marginal cases to be dropped without inmates taking up valuable jail space. Former Gov. William Donald Schaefer left the money needed to hire the lawyers out of his budget; the Glendening administration says it never received the request. It looks like someone dropped the ball, but this idea must not be allowed to die.

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