Drug task force funds sought in Carroll County Prosecutor seeks added money to pay for two positions

March 05, 1998|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes, accompanied by eight high-ranking state police officers, asked the County Commissioners yesterday for money to hire personnel for Carroll's drug task force.

Barnes wants a civilian investigator and an undercover state police officer by July 1 -- sooner, if possible -- to "augment and supplement [the prosecutor's efforts] to combat unlawful drug use and distribution," he said.

Heroin use and distribution have become a "unique and deadly situation" in Carroll, Barnes said, having "crept back into the scene as crack cocaine did in the late 1970s and 1980s."

His department prosecuted 400 heroin cases last year, Barnes said, and is likely to surpass that total this year. While that may pale compared to Baltimore's 6,500 cases, "we do have a heroin element, and the consequences in many instances have been death," he said.

In the past six months, 44 cases of heroin overdose have been treated at Carroll County General Hospital, Barnes said, with patients "ranging from teen-agers people in their 50s."

"It touches all elements of society," he said.

Liam O'Hara, a 15-year-old Westminster High School student, died from a drug overdose in January. Three juveniles have been arrested in connection with the Liam's death.

The proposed undercover officer would join a five-member state police drug task force assigned to the county and help find people bringing illegal drugs to the county and distributing them, Barnes said. The officer would also identify users and assist them in getting help for their addictions, he said.

Barnes said he didn't think taxpayers would object to the cost -- $31,200 for an investigator and $105,000 to $110,000 in the first year for a resident undercover state trooper.

"If it saves one more person's life -- let alone a child's life -- it would be money well spent," Barnes said.

The role of the investigator, who would not have police powers, would be to work with the county Board of Education "to deliver the message in schools," Barnes said, "and to develop tips into substantial information to help the state police in every respect short of making an arrest."

Having an investigator work with prosecutors is a very important part of law enforcement, Barnes said. Adding another police officer "will be an incredible asset" to the drug task force, he said.

"Quite frankly, with a population of 150,000 people, I think we should have eight to 10" undercover officers on the drug task force, Barnes said, "but if we have up to six, we can adequately address the situation."

Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown was not so sure.

Brown worried that resident troopers assigned to the drug task force could be reassigned -- something he said happened in the recent past.

Maj. Donald G. Lewis told Brown that while he could not promise the problem would not recur, state police "are at this point committed" to maintaining a six-member drug team, should the commissioners fund it.

The reassignments Brown spoke of occurred because vacancies in previous years went unfilled to meet austere state budgets, Lewis said. Gov. Parris N. Glendening has since restored funds for those positions.

"We can't deal with the unforeseen, but we need to let people know drugs are not tolerated here," Lewis said.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell said he believes "strong support" exists for the Barnes proposal but any action should be delayed until the county budget director and all three commissioners are present.

Commissioner Richard T. Yates was in Annapolis yesterday to testify on county-sponsored bills.

Pub Date: 3/05/98

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