'Larry's used-car specials' Anne Arundel County: Police Chief Tolliver's job is to get drugs off streets, not cars.

March 10, 1997

LARRY W. TOLLIVER, Anne Arundel County's new police chief, may come to regret his new policy of seizing cars for misdemeanor drug offenses. Several years ago when a narcotics task force in Carroll Carroll relied on this questionable tactic as part of a "zero tolerance" policy, the result was widespread abuses that only served to discredit its drug interdiction effort.

Chief Tolliver believes fear of losing automobiles will curb casual drug use. There is absolutely no analytical data to support this notion. If the possibility of confinement and fines isn't deterrent enough, why does the chief think the possible loss of a car will be more effective in discouraging casual drug use?

A major flaw in his theory is that often the person arrested for drug possession is not the owner of the confiscated car.

That was the case a week ago when two officers stopped a car for a routine traffic violation and spotted marijuana on the floor. They searched the car and discovered nearly four ounces of marijuana in a plastic bag. The driver, Lawrence Franklin, and his passenger, Errol Kerns, were arrested and the Ford Escort in which they were traveling was seized. It turned out that Mr. Franklin's father owns the car. Does it make sense to confiscate his car when he did nothing more than let his son drive it?

An equally troubling incident occurred the same day. Police arrested Belinda M. Glock and charged her with altering two prescriptions for Percocet, a painkiller containing narcotics. They seized her 1987 Ford Mustang on the flimsy pretense that her crime involved drugs. What relation does forgery have to drug trafficking?

In reality, confiscation of property is simply another means for the police to apply pressure to people who are arrested.

Most first-time drug users -- particularly those charged with possession -- get probation, suspended sentences or small fines. Property seizure becomes a way for police to mete out some "street justice" and obtain their pound of flesh from misdemeanor defendants.

If Chief Tolliver wants to reduce drug use in Anne Arundel, he would be better off focusing his efforts on stopping drug trafficking rather than collecting cars from casual users. His job is to get drugs off the streets, not autos.

Pub Date: 3/10/97

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