Wrong war Carroll County: Sheriff Brown should leave drug enforcement to others.

November 08, 1995

INSTEAD OF WAGING war on drugs, Carroll County Sheriff John H. Brown and State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes have declared war on each other. The most recent exchange of acid-penned press releases between Carroll's two top elected law enforcers is unbecoming to them and to their offices.

Mr. Brown's insistence on maintaining his own "drug strike force" is the source of the friction. The sheriff shouldn't be operating his free-lance drug squad, particularly one that seems to be have little direction or sense of priority.

Arresting small-fry drug users and seizing their property seems to be the squad's specialty. Those are the same discredited tactics employed by the now-defunct Carroll County Narcotics Task Force, an operation that made little headway in reducing drug use.

The problem is that most of Carroll's drug users travel out of the county to Baltimore or Washington to buy their dope. Following these users into Baltimore, as the strike force did recently in the case of William Chenoweth 3rd, is fraught with jurisdiction problems. Carroll's deputy sheriffs don't have authority outside the county. For them to make an arrest, they have to tail users, witness a drug purchase and then follow them back into the county. For that large investment of time, they may arrest someone with a small quantity of drugs. Filling up the detention center with casual users and addicts won't solve the drug problem.

Mr. Barnes is clearly interested in prosecuting drug dealers. The sheriff's charge that Mr. Barnes is "soft" on drugs doesn't have any substance. The sheriff's demand that Mr. Barnes resign is equally off-base.

Mr. Barnes has made it clear his office will pursue property seizures when a defendant faces felony charges of distribution. His approach is the proper one because the purpose of property seizures is to deny drug dealers the fruits of their illegal business. Forfeiture laws were not intended to harass users.

As long as the sheriff's strike force follows its current strategy, Mr. Barnes has no obligation to pursue these cases in court, nor should he bother to respond to Mr. Brown's baseless charges. It is time to stop this war of words and for Mr. Brown to give up his crusade and leave the work of investigating and arresting drug dealers to the state police.

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