A Baltimore undercover detective recently bought two $10 capsules filled with low-grade heroin from a suspected drug dealer. The Baltimore Sun recounts that other officers swooped in, arrested the man, discovered 59 gelatin capsules of heroin and recovered the detective’s marked $20 bill. The operation took less than 30 minutes.
A year ago, the Sun says, such an case would have been rare. Police attacked the drug trade mostly with surveillance techniques that proved to be less effective in court. Now, Police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark has turned to undercover drug purchases to reduce brazen dealing. He hopes the effort will reduce the high level of violence tied to the narcotics trade, and help strangle a drug market that feeds the habits of an estimated 40,000 to 60,000 addicts.
In the past eight months, detectives have made more than 6,000 felony drug arrests. Felony narcotic indictments by grand juries jumped 28.6 percent last year – from 5,776 in 2002 to 7,427, many the result of 2,100 undercover drug purchases. “The tides are turning,” said Anthony J. Romano, chief of the organized crime division. Twenty-four undercover officers and 88 other detectives and supervisors in the division concentrate on street-level dealers. “It’s getting more difficult to make arrests on the streets,” Romano said. “Dealers are showing more caution about who they are selling to.”
Street arrests make life easier for prosecutors, who say that they yield better witnesses and more evidence, especially the marked money. Judges agree. “It’s a good first step,” said Baltimore Circuit Judge John N. Prevas.