ANNAPOLIS – Maryland State Police have transferred the administration of county-wide drug task forces to local police, but some lawmakers are concerned about the impact on local law enforcement.
Maryland State Police representatives discussed the change Friday with members of the Eastern Shore delegation and Caroline County officials.
The reorganization, implemented in March 2013, allows the state police to operate on a regional level in order to pursue drug suppliers that are located across county lines.
The decision was department-wide and divided the state into five regions of operation. It was implemented in an attempt to create more effective task forces, said Maryland State Police spokeswoman Elena Russo.
“We are not taking troopers out of those counties [on the Eastern Shore],” said Col. Marcus Brown, Superintendent of Maryland State Police. “We are making a more strategic movement in those counties.”
That strategic movement may not physically relocate state troopers, but some are concerned that it may still harm the effectiveness of local police.
“I don’t think that this is necessarily in the best interest to the local law enforcement,” said Delegate Michael A. McDermott, R-Wicomico. “I don’t think the state has enough personnel to carry out their mission, so they’re redefining their mission.”
Reorganizing the state police’s drug task forces allows the officials to cut off “the head of the octopus,” Brown said.
However, while the state police will have more rein to pursue intercounty and interstate drug traffickers, it will require local police to invest more resources, which some counties may not have.
“We will maintain it somehow, in some way,” said Caroline County Sheriff Randy Bounds. “We will continue to conduct drug investigations.”
The new structure was implemented so quickly that the local agencies need time to gather additional personnel, said McDermott.
Both the county and state police are short on resources.
“We need more manpower,” said Lt. Joseph Gamble, an assistant commander of the Maryland State Police. “We can take from state troopers used in the local drug task force and put them on the regional level.”
Members of the Eastern Shore delegation also noted that resources are a problem.
“It sounds like an overall manpower issue,” McDermott, R-Wicomico, a former law enforcement officer, said. “We could be taking troopers off radar and putting them in other roles.”
Brown responded said that state police on radar are necessary to keep traffic safe.
An additional benefit to the reorganization is that the state police can communicate with federal agencies easier than the local government can, Brown said.
“They’re already operating county-to-county,” McDermott said. “They talked about state-to-state. That’s where the [Drug Enforcement Administration] and the [Department of Homeland Security] are supposed to come in.”
Furthermore, the local police agencies may lose money from the change.
If locals work with federal agencies, a portion of the money garnered from seized assets goes back to the local agency, McDermott said. If the state seizes the forfeitures, the money goes to Maryland’s general fund.
With a growth of heroin overdoses and other drugs in Caroline County, manpower in the sheriff’s office and local police departments is critical.
“We’ve had a recent spike in homemade methamphetamine labs,” said Caroline County State’s Attorney Jonathan G. Newell.
The reorganization will ultimately be beneficial, Brown said, and is willing to re-evaluate the change if it seems ineffective.
“We’ll show that we’re doing what makes the community safer,” Brown said.