FREDERICK – It was the kind of pitch usually heard only on late-night television.
White House officials demonstrated high-tech drug-fighting gear to about 35 Maryland state and local police officers Friday, touting the gear as the same models used by federal drug enforcement agencies.
And it’s free, said staffers from the Office of National Drug Control Policy, who also threw in travel costs, per diem and delivery.
But unlike late-night TV, this offer was as good as it sounds.
The Technology Transfer Program provides drug interdiction equipment, training and installation to local police departments that otherwise could not afford it. The program is funded at $22 million for fiscal 2002.
In four years, the program has only given 37 pieces of equipment to 24 Maryland law enforcement agencies, according to program manager Rafael Anton. Nationwide, 2,533 agencies have received more than 3,250 items since the program began in 1998.
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, who hosted Friday’s two-hour event said he invited the White House staff to Frederick because he thought many Maryland departments did not know about the program.
Local law enforcement is “where the rubber hits road” in stopping drug traffic, Bartlett said. “This (program) really leverages a great deal.”
Al Brandenstein, chief scientist in the office’s Counterdrug Technology Assessment Center, said almost every agency that applies to the program has received equipment. His staff said the program is so popular across the country that all fiscal 2002 training slots are already full.
Bartlett’s staff called the program a “no-brainer” for local police.
Brandenstein said 56 percent of the program’s equipment goes to jurisdictions with fewer than 50,000 people.
The program’s catalog offers equipment for suspect surveillance and tracking and drug detection. Anton said the most popular items are thermal imaging equipment and the Mini-Buster Contraband Detector.
The thermal imaging equipment can be vehicle-mounted or hand-held, and provides night vision capability, according to the office. It senses heat, not light, and generates real-time video pictures. An office video shows Brownsville, Texas, police using thermal imaging to catch drug runners crossing the border.
The Mini-Buster kit has a depth finder and fiber optics to detect drugs and money hidden in vehicles. Customs officers use the fiber-optic snake to peer into gas tanks and they use the depth finder to discover hidden compartments or stashes behind the panels of cars or trucks.
Only 11 Maryland agencies will receive equipment and training this year, according to Kent Lunsford, a contractor with the program. Police in Berlin, Ocean City and Anne Arundel County have received equipment in the past.
Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith said Friday that the Technology Transfer Program equipment increases productivity, but is beyond the budgets of most departments. Even the Baltimore Police Department, from which he retired, would have a hard time funding it, he said.
Lunsford said President Bush again budgeted $22 million for the program in fiscal 2003, but that the budget request was formulated before Sept. 11.
Bartlett said Congress would add as much money to the appropriation as needed.