Pubdate: Fri, 13 Feb 2015
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2015 The Baltimore Sun Company
Author: Jean Marbella


Northeast States Will Share Intelligence on Drug Dealers

Calling heroin a crisis that crosses state boundaries, Maryland 
Attorney General Brian E. Frosh said Thursday that his office will 
join counterparts in the Northeast to share information and jointly 
prosecute drug traffickers.

"We will have a 700-mile-long partnership," Frosh said, announcing 
the Bangor-to-Baltimore collaboration. "That's very important because 
the folks who are trading in this drug have to be tracked down.

"We'll be able to track them down whether they're moving by car up 
and down I-95 or by boat or by plane," he said.

In the latest initiative to control an alarming rise in heroin deaths 
in recent years, Maryland and Maine joined Thursday an existing task 
force composed of Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and 
Pennsylvania. Public health and law enforcement officials in Maryland 
and elsewhere have been struggling to deal with the rise in 
overdoses, something they attribute to heroin being much purer and 
much cheaper than in the past.

Heroin deaths in Maryland have jumped every year since 2011 - to 464 
in 2013. And there is no indication that the death rate is slowing: 
 From January to September of last year, 428 people died of heroin 
overdoses, according to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Gov. Larry Hogan has promised to declare a "state of emergency" after 
his predecessor, Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, made no progress 
toward achieving his goal, set in June, to reduce overdose deaths by 
20 percent by the end of 2015. Heroin deaths account for about half 
of overdose deaths.

Hogan, a Republican, has yet to say what he plans to do about the 
heroin problem. On Thursday, he said he plans to issue an executive 
order next week, but declined to specify what it would say. He also 
plans to hold a summit meeting and create a task force of his own.

"We're the ones that have been talking about this for the past year," 
Hogan told reporters after an appearance in Greenbelt. "It's great 
that the attorney general wants to get together with other attorneys 
general and talk about this. That's what we'll do with other governors.

"This is not just a Maryland problem," Hogan said. "It's a problem 
all around the country, and we ought to be getting all the help and 
all the info we can from as many places as we can."

Frosh and Maryland Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah said law 
enforcement agencies across the Northeast will establish protocols to 
regularly share intelligence on dealers, stash houses and trafficking 
routes, something that happens now on a more ad hoc basis.

"If we learn about a new product of a certain purity, of a new 
pipeline, of a particular source who is lacing heroin with fentanyl, 
which is presenting a public health threat, that's information the 
task force intends to transmit and share up and down the Eastern 
seaboard," said Vignarajah, a former federal prosecutor who 
previously led the major investigations unit in the Baltimore City 
state's attorney's office.

"Their networks don't stop at the borders," he said. "They don't stop 
at the Delaware bridge and neither should ours."

While declining to offer details about specific cases, Vignarajah 
said police and prosecutors sometimes learn via a wiretap or during a 
search of a link to another state.

"At that point, what we have to do is pick up the phone and try to 
track down a prosecutor or a police officer in that particular 
jurisdiction to get some assistance," he said. "Sometimes that works 
great. Sometimes it doesn't.

"You're getting an intercept on a wire at 10 p.m. or 2 a.m. and all 
of a sudden you need to let someone know in New York City that 
there's a trafficker heading up I-95," he said.

With new government leaders taking over this year after the November 
elections, a number have announced that combating heroin will be a 
priority. Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, for example, said 
in his State of the County address last month that he would add more 
education and treatment programs and continue supporting law 
enforcement efforts.

Educators there have grown concerned about a state survey that showed 
a rise in the number of ninth-graders who have tried heroin and are 
incorporating drug abuse information into their health education programs.

Increasingly, police and other personnel who come into contact with 
drug users are being trained and equipped with naloxone, a drug that 
will reverse a heroin overdose. To date, nearly 5,000 people, 
including more than 2,300 law enforcement officers, have been trained 
to use the drug, according to the state health department.

Several law enforcement officials in Maryland said they welcome any 
new focus and assistance with the heroin crisis.

"The only people that respect the lines on the map are the police," 
said Anne Arundel County Police Chief Timothy J. Altomare. "We all 
know folks in other jurisdictions. But anything that formalizes that 
relationship is a good thing."

Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh declared a public health 
emergency last month in response to the heroin crisis.

Altomare, who served a tour in the Police Department's narcotics 
unit, said the increased attention on heroin has brought schools, 
health departments, mental health facilities and other agencies 
together to combat the problem.

"The silos have been exited," Altomare said, "and we're all meeting 
at the center of the farm and talking."

Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby said in a statement that she 
applauded Frosh's initiative.

"Information sharing is critical to the work we do and combating this 
problem. We regularly work with our federal partners on these cases, 
and I have also created a Criminal Strategies Unit that will be 
focusing on breaking down these silos to improve information sharing 
in all cases," she said.

Other law enforcement officials were cautiously optimistic. In 
Caroline County, State's Attorney Jonathan G. Newell said the 
multistate task force is "clearly not a bad idea, but I'm not sure 
what extra doors it will open up."

"Sometimes you have to worry about having too many cooks in the 
kitchen, but I can't imagine that it will have a negative effect," he said.

The focus on prosecuting drug crimes represents a new direction for 
the Maryland attorney general's office, which Frosh took over this year.

"We have a crisis in our state," Frosh said Thursday. "It's a crisis 
fueled by heroin.

"We lose more than a person a day in our state to heroin-related 
death, and the public safety crisis follows in its wake," he said. 
"It brings with it violence, gangs and guns. The kinds of crime we 
experience as a result range from petty theft to murder."
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