West County crackdown

Months-long city, federal investigation nets 16 in drug trade

July 14, 2006|By ANNIE LINSKEY | ANNIE LINSKEY,SUN REPORTER

Four people charged with being involved in the drug trade in the Stillmeadows and Pioneer City neighborhoods are scheduled to appear today in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, and 12 additional suspects are to go before county judges for drug-related offenses in those West County neighborhoods in the coming weeks.

The cases represent the fruits of a broad police effort that began in March to crack down on illegal drug activity - and associated crimes - in those neighborhoods.

"We know there is drug activity over there, which contributes to shootings and assaults," said Lt. David D. Waltemeyer, a spokesman for the county police. "A small minority of people over there account for the drugs and the violence" in Pioneer City and Stillmeadows, he said.

Waltemeyer said some of the investigations were conducted with the assistance of federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Ten county officers were involved with the operation.

Glenda Gathers, an activist in the Stillmeadows neighborhood, said she'd noticed increased police activity in recent months: "We have the problems with the drug trade. If they did a bust to that magnitude, I'm happy."

She's also noticed an improvement in relations with the police.

"I feel like I'm always criticizing the police," she said, "but in the last six months, they've been really policing."

She said: "There are two officers in particular - they come out realizing this is not just training ground for rookie cops."

Gathers stressed that she would like to see more activities available for teens in her neighborhood, giving them an option beyond the drug trade. "Children need to have choices," she said. "If what they see on the corner is the only option ... they need choices."

Waltemeyer said the arrests - which were mostly made in May and June - focused on lower-level dealers. Those dealers tend to be the "soldiers" of the drug trade - those who are responsible for much the violence. "The street-level guys are just as dangerous - if not more dangerous - than the upper-level guys," Waltemeyer said.

The police work was not particularly glamorous. Court documents connected with one of the apparently smaller arrests reveals that an officer discovered a plastic bag containing 3 grams of cocaine only after strip-searching a suspect who attempted to stuff the drugs down his pants.

In that case, the officer said he had to chase and then subdue the suspect using his pepper spray and his baton, according to court records.

At least 10 of the individuals arrested were indicted by a grand jury on either cocaine or marijuana possession and distribution charges. Many of the indictments stemmed from undercover buys executed by one officer.

Waltemeyer also said the string of arrests could help solve other crimes. Officers and detectives debrief those arrested - hoping some will talk and provide leads on unsolved cases.

However, the arrests may only provide a temporary reprieve for the affected communities.

Said Waltemeyer: "We get one large group off the streets and another large group moves in."

annie.linskey@baltsun.com

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