Drug City, aka Harford County

June 24, 2011

Welcome to Drug City, akaHarford County,Maryland.

Maybe that's what the signs should say on either end of I-95, Route 40 and Route 1 in our county, now that the federal Office of Drug Control Police has added Harford to the agency's High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas list.

As much as some of us may hate to admit it, such a designation was long overdue, unwelcome as it may be. Surely, everyone even remotely familiar with Harford County knows we have a pretty darn bad drug-related crime problem. While it's not a murder-a-day crime problem like Baltimore City or Prince George's County, Harford is home to plenty of drug dealing, stealing and shooting, sticking up and occasional killing and maiming.

The federal government's "official" confirmation that Harford is a "high intensity drug trafficking area" seems odd timing, as Sheriff Jesse Bane says the county had long ago asked to be included in the Washington, D.C./Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area and had essentially given up thinking that would happen.

Bane said earlier this week that Harford's drug crime problem, particularly open air dealing, escalated in the 1980s and, in his opinion, ushered in the gang era which the county's police agencies have been coping with since. Bane speculated that the feds became more interested of late because of the recent bust of a prescription drug sales ring that crossed into several counties that were already in the high intensity area, as well as an increase in the number of prescription drug overdose deaths in the region.

Bane said the county sought inclusion in the regional high intensity area so it could be eligible for increased federal funding and participation in more interjurisidictional investigations and other cooperative law enforcement operations against drug dealers, many of whom have gang ties.

The county should not be stigmatized because of the federal designation, the sheriff said."You know what, you don't solve a problem by hiding your head in the sand," he said. Besides, if there's any consolation,Howard County and Loudon County, Va., two counties with which Harford is frequently compared, were already included in the HIDTA, as is Charles County. Of course, also included are the usual urban-suburban suspects, D.C., Baltimore, Baltimore and Anne Arundel, Prince George's and Montgomery counties, so it's not something the chamber of commerce or the county tourism board are likely to include in their brochures.

Bane is probably right when he says the county is better served by being part of regional effort in the fight against criminals who "do not know borders." But regional cooperation likewise can't become an excuse for not doing everything possible locally to make Harford an inhospitable place for drug trafficking. Once drug dealers get a foothold, it's tough to get rid of them. Harford has seen this first-hand. The only way to beat them is to keep aggressively pursing and prosecuting them and locking them up

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