State police anti-drug team is halved Also, concern is expressed over stops of black drivers

June 30, 1996|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

A top Maryland State Police official has reduced by half a six-member highway anti-drug team in order to cut costs, but he also admitted there was some concern about racial sensitivity by the all-white unit that patrols Interstate 95.

"Had we not had to reduce the personnel due to the [lack of financial] resources, we probably would've left it the way it was," Lt. Col. Ernest Leatherbury, chief of field operations for the 1,540-officer state police force, said yesterday.

State police made the decision several weeks ago to transfer three members of the Special Traffic Interdiction Force to other routine duties after they learned the state Department of Transportation could not afford to support all six members of the anti-drug unit.

Leatherbury also acknowledged he reviewed statistics that showed more than 75 percent of the 145 motorists stopped and searched along I-95 between Delaware and Baltimore County in the first nine months of 1995 were black. Those statistics prompted a review, he said.

"I could see the same thing that everybody else could see," Leatherbury said. "At that point, I felt it was desirable to sit down with my troopers and communicate with them and seek some dialogue to see what we can do together to improve what we're already doing.

"I realize the way it looks, but regardless of the way it looks, I have to use the resources in the best interests of the state and its citizens."

Leatherbury said the reduction should not be perceived as a move to ignore drug trafficking.

"Drug interdiction is a high priority," he said, adding that any trooper can make a drug arrest. But Harford County officials are worried that the move could mean an increase in drug trafficking along I-95, said Sgt. Edward Hopkins, a spokesman for the Harford County Sheriff's Office.

"If [drug couriers] realize that the interdiction effort isn't as full-force as it used to be, they may stay on the [interstate] highway," Hopkins said.

That means they won't be using Harford roads as a way to avoid state police. And that could lessen the number of drug traffickers Harford authorities apprehend.

Joseph I. Cassilly, Harford state's attorney, said the reduction in force could reduce the number of cases in court and undercut the efforts of authorities to gain information on other couriers.

Pub Date: 6/30/96

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