A Baltimore heroin dealer’s 25 year prison term is the latest illustration of what prosecutors say has become a “tremendous tool” for catching criminals–wiretaps–the Baltimore Sun reports.
Wiretap investigations have yielded about 200 convictions in the past two years, says Jill J. Myers, chief of the wiretap unit in the prosecutor’s office. “It’s a tremendous tool. It shows the defendants as they really are,” Myers said. “It’s easy to get the street dealer. It’s not easy to get the people indoors.”
The wiretaps can be expensive for police, who must stay up-to-date with high-tech equipment, pay for the phone companies to tap the lines and often pay their detectives overtime. The cases are taxing for defense attorneys who spend days listening to the recorded conversations.
Wiretaps involve police tapping into a cellular phone or landline to listen to a conversation. In Baltimore, they used in drug investigations and other crimes like murder or robbery. Before a judge will authorize a wiretap, prosecutors must show just cause, and that all other avenues to gather information about a suspect have been exhausted.
Last month, the state’s attorney’s wiretap unit received a $183,175 grant from the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention so that prosecutors could continue their “cutting edge investigative techniques.”
The emphasis on wiretap investigations began about two years ago. Before 2001, the last wiretap case conducted by city law enforcement was in 1998, Myers said. In the preceding decade, officials initiated only four or five such cases.