Police should put focus on billion-dollar drug trade

September 21, 1997|By MICHAEL OLESKER

Maybe now, the Baltimore police will begin to focus on crime again. Commissioner Thomas Frazier has stripped 35 officers of their guns and badges. Col. Ron Daniel's attempted palace coup has been thwarted, and he's been sent to Siberia. Maybe now, everybody in the department will remember the primary business of those who wear the uniform.

There have been too many distractions. There were seven killings in as many days, but we had Commissioner Frazier calling a news conference last week -- to talk about internal policies on misconduct charges.

We have narcotics traffic continuing to ruin various neighborhoods -- and simultaneous public squabbling over secondary matters: one, over the commissioner's ability to fire cops whose previous conduct should make sane people leery of letting them carry weapons; another, over the lingering business of Colonel Daniel, now doing business out of an obscure office at City Hall.

Colonel Daniel saw an exposed nerve, and plucked at it, and now pays a price for it. He could have been commissioner one day, but he couldn't wait. He tried to make race an issue where it didn't belong, and the mayor of Baltimore said he was wrong, and maybe now the police will focus on crime again.

The final irony about Daniel is his role in the case of Officer Charles M. Smothers II, videotaped as he shot and killed a man with a knife, James Quarles, at Lexington Mall. Smothers was inexplicably on the street, even though he was on probation for shooting at a former girlfriend. He'd gotten official OK to go back into uniform. The OK now seems to have come come from Colonel Daniel, though he developed a case of instant amnesia when asked about it.

Out of the Smothers case came a demand for new reviews: How many more police were like Smothers, apparent loose cannons? Too many, it turned out. At his news conference last week, Frazier said there were 35 officers who'd been put back on the street with disciplinary hearings still pending.

"We do have a number of officers who we feel should have their police powers revoked," Frazier said at his news conference.

The response? Fraternal Order of Police officials accusing Frazier of playing "public relations." Police spokesmen rushing to defend Frazier. City Hall again feeling uncomfortable, and the Police Department facing one more distraction.

At week's end, a man who knows Commissioner Frazier intimately said, "This guy's getting a bad rap. The race thing? Let me tell you, he didn't have one staff meeting where he didn't bring up race and tell us, 'We gotta fix this. We can't have these kinds of divisions.'

"He's not perfect. I disagree with him on a lot of things, including his rotation system. He doesn't listen to people worth a [bleep]. He should have whacked Daniel a lot sooner. But he's a solid guy, if he gets a chance."

There was a day, some months back, when Frazier sat at his desk and talked for a few minutes strictly about crime in the city. It was mostly arithmetic, and it's worth relating on days like this.

"Fifty thousand," Frazier said.

He was estimating the number of hard-core drug abusers in the city.

"Seventy-five dollars," he said.

He was estimating the average money spent by the average junkie in an ordinary day.

Simple arithmetic, meaning 50,000 abusers times $75, means that roughly $3,750,000 in cash money is handed over to put illegal substances into human veins and nostrils each day in the city.

As there are 365 days in the year, multiply the $3,750,000 times 365. This is the estimated amount spent on narcotics annually in the city: $1,368,750,000.

This, of course, only hints at the problem: To raise this money, most junkies are committing crimes. Breaking into houses, stealing from stores, and then selling the stuff they steal to raise money for their next fix. But there's a slight problem: The going rate on stolen property might be 10-to-one. A $10 stolen item might get $1 in resale. Thus, take that $1,368,750,000 and multiply it by 10, and then you have the money won and lost in crime in the city of Baltimore, merely from drugs.

All of this is worth mentioning simply for a little perspective. The business of the police is to protect the citizenry, which is far less interested in internal machinations than in safety in their neighborhoods.

A few hours after Frazier's news conference last week, a 10-year-old girl in South Baltimore was shot in the leg. She was shot as she was running on Reinhart Street. She was running because a man with a gun fired it seven times at a holdup victim, who was hit in the arm, and the little girl was frightened, and she thought she could outrun the speed of random bullets.

When we learn to protect ourselves from such outrages, then we can concern ourselves more about the political machinations of the Police Department. Until then, everybody should remember what's really important in the life of this community.

Pub Date: 9/21/97

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