Many not prosecuted in drug 'zones' arrests Councilman researches program's effectiveness

October 30, 1998|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Baltimore failed to prosecute almost all the people arrested in drug-free zones during the first nine months of this year, a West Baltimore councilman's research shows.

Fed up with illegal drug markets in his 4th District, Democratic Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. in May vowed to determine whether "drug-free zones" are working.

A law established in 1989, during the "Just say no to drugs" movement, allows police to search and arrest loiterers in designated drug-free zones. The zones tend to be located around schools and high crime areas.

But Mitchell found that between January and September, 25 of 26 misdemeanor loitering arrests in the 60 zones established around the city were not prosecuted. Misdemeanors in Maryland are punishable by up to two years in jail and a $2,000 fine.

"Our police have been good enough to go out and crack down and make arrests in these drug-free zones," Mitchell said. "We're trying to find out why the police are not being backed up in the courts."

Prosecutors oppose the law because they consider it unconstitutional. Police welcome it because it gives them probable cause for searches and seizures.

"It's used as a tool," said Baltimore Police spokesman Scott Rowe, a 13-year patrolman. "It gives us that ability to have probable cause."

The City Council established 50 drug-free zones in 1989 and added 10 in 1994. Mitchell, however, is considering calling for the abolishment of the zones because he considers them a waste of police effort.

Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy could not be reached to comment on Mitchell's study. A call placed to her office yesterday was not returned.

Mitchell showed that 14 of 15 drug-related charges filed in the zones since January, such as possession, were also not prosecuted. In all of the arrests made in the zones since January, four of 30 people spent any time in jail.

Council President Lawrence A. Bell III said he wants the zones to work: "We want drug-free zones that are drug-free."

Pub Date: 10/30/98

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