WBAL-TV's excellent Jayne Miller had an interesting take on Baltimore's Shadow Economy Wednesday night, telling viewers that Baltimore's substantial cocaine trade has lately seen a drought because of strife and drug cartel rivalries in Mexico and better-focused efforts by law enforcement here in Baltimore.
Stepping off from last month's 41-kilo seizure, Miller lets Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick Bealfeld take some credit for his department's efforts. Targeting violent offenders with guns and sending them to federal prison under "Project Exile" has adjusted attitudes on the street, Bealfeld tells Miller.
And Miller gets an anonymous drug dealer to tell her he used to clock $20,000 on a good day hustling, but now is studying for his GED, because the game is no longer profitable enough.
This story would appear to be good news on two fronts. Obviously, a drop in drug supply might be the first sign that recent "drug war" strategies are bearing fruit (although droughts and floods of illegal substances have come and gone with regularity in the past three or four decades). But the second reason to be optimistic is this: police in Baltimore have gone on record saying they really do know something about the city's drug market.
Three months ago, Police Spokesman Anthony Guglielmi declined my request for an estimate of the market's total value. "It's just an impossible figure to guess," he said then. "I did check with our Violent Crimes [division] and they said there's just no way to speculate."
So does Miller's story mark a watershed in police intelligence about the drug trade? No, says Guglielmi. "That story started out because of Jayne Miller's source," he says. "Jayne got her info from a reformed drug dealer or someone on the street. It's not like we can audit the tax returns of drug dealers." (He said that in the first interview, too--an ironic statement given the IRS's continuing interest in bail bondsman Milton Tillman).
Guglielmi does, however, endorse the story's thrust, which is that enforcement works. "We made a big seizure," he says. "It has had an effect."
The downside? An uptick in robberies. According to Miller's street source, hoppers who can't make money slinging have turned to robbery to make ends meet. A dude's gotta eat, right?
"It's all about the cash," Miller concludes. "These days there's less of it as a different kind of recession has hit Baltimore's drug market."