Undercover narcotics officer retires but plans to continue fighting drugs

Devotion: Sgt. Mike College's career with the state police is highlighted by his commitment to keeping youths from using drugs.

February 27, 2000|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

For most of his 25-year career with the Maryland State Police, Sgt. Mike College served as a narc, fighting the drug war on the streets or collecting data on drug trafficking at local, state and national levels.

Although College retired from the force last month and was toasted at a retirement lunch Friday, he is not ending his battle against drugs.

"I want to be there, to do whatever I can to keep my daughters and other kids in the community from getting involved with drugs," said College, 45, former supervisor of the Carroll County Drug Task Force.

As the task force supervisor, College grew afraid -- not of being exposed as a narc -- but of being unable to share his storehouse of knowledge about drug abuse with others in the community, especially middle and high schoolers and their parents.

Retirement will allow him to pursue that. He has requests from community organizations and church groups to speak about drugs.

"It was time to slow family life down," said College, who with Jody, his wife of 21 years, has two daughters.

His retirement was speeded after ABC's "20/20" came in October to document Carroll County's "Heroin Kills" campaign. Producers wanted to interview College, considered by many to be the county's drug expert.

"Mike will be sorely missed by local law enforcement in fighting drugs," said Sheriff Kenneth Tregoning, a former state police commander.

Last year, Tregoning, College and State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes were instrumental in re-establishing the Carroll County Narcotics Task Force, a collective effort to share resources and fight the spread of drugs, especially among youths.

"I have known Mike professionally for many years," Tregoning said. "Mike has had the talent and personality ideally suited for drug enforcement. He relates well with young adults and adults, and has always been able to convey the consequences of using drugs."

Those consequences became a grave concern for College even before the overdose deaths of several Carroll County teen-agers in 1997 and 1998. The influx of heroin was rampant. And the drug was so pure, even one dose could be fatal.

"Heroin is the most dangerous" drug, College said. "You can't stop it."

Going public with his anti-heroin message was imperative but raised safety concerns for College, who prefers not to be photographed.

"I've bought drugs and busted too many dealers over the years," he said.

Nevertheless, College did do the ABC interview, which he expects will air next month, and decided to retire.

College knows as much as anyone about the topic and praises the efforts of police, prosecutors and Residents Attacking Drugs, a grass-roots group that aims to educate people about the danger of heroin.

"Educating the younger kids, before they get involved with drugs, is the only hope," he said.

That message was developed over many years.

College joined the state police in 1975 and was one of 25 troopers assigned in 1979 to a state police special narcotics unit.

From 1983 until 1996, when he was sent to head the drug unit in Westminster, College was gathering information and analyzing trends for more effective drug enforcement, including a stint with the federal task force headed by William J. Bennett, the former education secretary and drug czar under President Ronald Reagan.

For a time, College was tracking an increase in LSD trafficking, and was the first to link the rise in LSD use to six-week periods before and after Grateful Dead concerts, said Lt. Terry Katz, commander at the Westminster barracks.

College can tell harrowing tales about working undercover, such as the time an unwitting informant introduced him to a drug dealer, a former schoolmate of College's.

"Fortunately, he was too inebriated to recognize me," College said.

Or the time a dealer spied the surveillance team backing up College on a drug buy and took him along back roads at speeds exceeding 100 mph to get away.

College said he managed to convince the dealer he had borrowed money from his brother-in-law to make the purchase and that the backup was his brother-in-law tailing him to protect his stake in the deal.

Education, he said, is the only realistic solution to saving future generations from the perils of drug abuse.

As his daughters reached middle school, College could see that many parents at PTA meetings had no idea how pervasive marijuana, cocaine and especially heroin had become in Carroll County.

"I'm happy about what I have done in covert operations, but if I can support other parents and reach young kids to help keep them from getting involved [in drugs], I'll be glad to do it," he said.

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