Norris issues reminder to officers

Show up to testify and take copies of drug analysis, he says

February 15, 2002|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris issued a memo to officers yesterday reminding them to take copies of drug analysis reports to court, a week after prosecutors complained that hundreds of cases have been dropped, dismissed or postponed because they never received test results.

"We want them to come to court prepared," said Kristen Mahoney, who oversees grants and government relations for the Police Department.

Police officials also said they are addressing another dispute that flared between prosecutors and police in recent weeks: officers failing to appear in court. Police officials said they have taken steps to better notify officers about court dates and to track those who skip them.

Prosecutors said last week that they were not always receiving copies of tests done on suspected drugs by the city's crime lab, forcing them to seek postponements or drop cases. Test results are the foundation of drug prosecutions.

Prosecutors said police were not performing analyses on time and not providing them with the results. Police said prosecutors were losing the reports and that officers needed to do a better job of following up on cases and bringing the reports to court.

Number confusion

Both sides also blamed booking officers at Central Booking and Intake Center for typing incorrect police report numbers into state computers.

Police file test results under police report numbers. If prosecutors do not have the right number, they can't get the test results.

The problem appeared to have surfaced in late summer as the number of city drug cases increased. Police submitted 32,784 cases for analysis last year - a 16 percent increase from 2000. Last month, police submitted 3,100 cases for analysis.

Mayor Martin O'Malley met with police officials Feb. 8 after the problem was reported in The Sun and authorized them to hire two more chemists to handle the increasing load, officials said.

New steps

Police officials and prosecutors say a new computer system expected to go on-line in several weeks will allow prosecutors to gain access to test results from their offices. The system will allow prosecutors to search by case number or the defendant's name, officials said.

On the issue of officers who miss court dates, police say that many officers are often never alerted to the schedules. Court officials in Annapolis print summonses and deliver them to Baltimore, where they are distributed to the district stations.

Norris has criticized the summons process, calling it the "Pony Express."

Police will soon begin printing court summonses in the district stations.

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