Md. officials boast of success in drug-crime crackdown

October 02, 1997|By Eric Lekus | Eric Lekus,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

WASHINGTON -- Law enforcement and health officials in Maryland claimed credit yesterday for what they called a successful crackdown on drug-related crime in the Baltimore-Washington area in the past year.

At a news conference outside the Capitol, the officials pointed to the work of the 3-year-old Washington-Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, which coordinates anti-drug efforts of dozens of law enforcement agencies, treatment centers and government offices in Maryland, Virginia and Washington.

"It's a combination of all the different programs together -- the treatment, the prevention, the law enforcement -- and doing [all of them] better," said John E. Gavrilis, chief of detectives for the Baltimore Police Department. He attended the news conference with Democratic Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, who represents Southern Maryland, and numerous local officials.

Among the Baltimore-Washington zone's achievements last year was the dismantling of 186 drug gangs, seven money-laundering operations and 12 gun distributors, according to figures released yesterday. The seizure of $11.3 million in assets from drug

dealers marked a 53 percent increase over the previous year.

Throughout Maryland, reports of crime declined in 1996. In the Baltimore area -- defined as Baltimore City and Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Howard and Harford counties -- crime reports dropped 5.1 percent. Statewide, the decrease was 3 percent.

The Maryland officials acknowledged yesterday that their success has been duplicated in most other metropolitan areas. Reported violent crime nationwide dropped 7 percent in 1996, and murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults fell in every region, the FBI said.

Experts attribute the widespread improvements to several factors, notably better crime-fighting methods and a decline in the number of young people most likely to commit violence.

Even so, the Maryland officials said their joint efforts would prove especially effective in the long run because, unlike the approaches in most urban areas, they are focusing as much on treatment and prevention as on arrests and prosecutions. While the area's police go after violent gangs that supply drugs, the treatment programs seek to help small-time drug users who steal to support their addictions, the officials said.

"On one hand, you are dealing with law enforcement's ability to deal with the most violent gangs," Baltimore Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier said in an interview. "On the other hand, you have treatment, and you have prevention, and prevention is the long-term answer."

For example, about 1,700 chronic drug offenders in the area have been placed in treatment programs offering drug testing and counseling. Those who continue using drugs have been punished with home detention or imprisonment; those who stopped have been rewarded with schooling and job counseling.

The Baltimore-Washington zone, which received $12 million in federal money last year, is one of 17 such zones designated for aid because of drug problems. Baltimore and Washington are major corridors for trafficking because of proximity to Interstate 95.

Pub Date: 10/02/97

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