Wrong move on drugs

Arundel: One flaw in Annapolis' anti-loitering law is that it moves drug problem, doesn't arrest it.

February 23, 2000

IF A POLICE officer has reasonable cause to believe someone is dealing drugs on your street corner, what would you want the officer to do -- move the suspected dealer along or arrest him or herfor dealing drugs?

Most people certainly would choose the latter. Moving drug dealers from one street to another, one neighborhood to another does nothing but prolong a demoralizing chess game.

Communities that want to eradicate open-air drug markets want and deserve better.

They won't get it from Annapolis' anti-loitering law, which purports to sweep drug dealing from troubled public housing developments but could be nothing more than a bromide.

Even the city's lawyer has found defects in the legislation. The new law requires police officers to determine whether someone is behaving like a drug dealer and then ask the person to move along. If the suspected dealer refuses, police can arrest him or her. More than likely, however, real drug dealers will relocate their trades.

It would be so much better if Annapolis would concentrate on taking people off the street.

Instead of playing games, city officials should encourage officers to gather reasonable cause against drug dealers and arrest them on distribution charges. The city has declared the Newtowne 20 housing development a "drug-loitering free zone," by putting this move-along policy in place. That could mean temporary relief at Newtowne 20, but more problems for troubled public housing developments like Robinwood. It could create new problems in peaceful developments like Bloombury Square.

Annapolis may find -- like other places have -- that you can't eliminate the drug trade by moving it along. The city should concentrate on arresting suspected dealers, not moving them.

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