For all intents and purposes, the Carroll County Narcotics Task Force no longer exists.
By pulling out of the drug enforcement group, Carroll Sheriff John H. Brown put an end to this misconceived organization that was more successful in creating controversy than in fighting drug dealing.
The idea of assembling people from the state police, sheriff's office, Westminster police department and state's attorney into a cooperative task force to fight drugs in Carroll County was flawed from the beginning. The task force answered to no one but itself. The result was a police agency that ignored due process and routinely abused the basic constitutional rights of county residents in the name of fighting drugs.
The idea of making the task force self-financing was another major flaw. Because property seizures were the only way to finance its operations, the natural tendency was to focus on drug cases where cars, boats, money or other assets could be seized. Open air drug markets in Westminster flourished while task force officers focused their attention on drug users who happened to have valuable cars or were carrying large amounts of cash when they were arrested.
The participation of the state's attorney office in the task force has always been problematic. The task force is essentially a police organization designed to investigate and arrest drug dealers. When it was founded in 1988, then-state's attorney Thomas E. Hickman wasn't content to provide legal advice and prosecute drug dealers. He inserted himself and his office into the task force's day-to-day police work. His successor, Jerry F. Barnes, has followed the same practice.
The collapse of the task force should be seen as an opportunity to improve the county's drug enforcement effort. With Westminster Police Chief Samuel Leppo and Mr. Brown pulling their officers and deputies out of the task force, all the investigative and police work rests with the Maryland State Police. These troopers are trained in narcotics enforcement and capable of handling the investigative work, staging the raids and arresting the dealers formerly done by the task force.
Mr. Barnes has the chance to extricate his office from the task force and police work and focus on its primary duty of prosecuting and convicting drug dealers. This division of duties works well in other jurisdictions and should greatly improve Carroll's drug enforcement efforts.