Drug addiction drives Carroll's crime statistics.
There were 2,342 property crimes, including thefts and burglaries, reported in 2013, according to the most recent Uniform Crime Report statistics. There were 342 violent crimes.
"An overwhelming majority of crime in this county would go down … if people would just lock their cars and their houses," Sheriff Jim DeWees said.
Unsecured property becomes an easy target for someone looking for a quick way to get money for their next high.
Facing an overcrowded detention center and a sharp increase in heroin and opioid overdose deaths, DeWees and State's Attorney Brian DeLeonardo took office in last year with plans to move away from incarcerating nonviolent drug offenders.
"It's what I ran on," DeLeonardo said. "This is my issue."
DeLeondardo's office has begun an early intervention program that identifies low-level, nonviolent drug offenders and works to get them into treatment before they can commit more serious crimes because of an addiction.
"It benefits everyone," he said. "It benefits them because they get clean, and it benefits the county because we save five or six future victims."
Judge Michael M. Galloway said attitudes appear to be shifting toward getting treatment for drug offenders.
"Our entire community, our entire society, has to become sensitive to this problem, and we all, I think, have a role to play," he said.
There are even some encouraging signs that this shift in attitudes and approach is having a positive effect as Carroll — and the rest of the state — has begun to see a decrease in the minor crimes associated with drug use, according to DeWees.
"Overall, our prison population has taken a sharp decrease in our average daily population," he said. "We've gone from an average of well over 200 down to a decade-low of under 175 this past month."
The change has been noticeable within the Carroll County Detention Center as well, according to Warden George Hardinger, who said that he is cautiously optimistic about this apparent turnaround.
"Finally, things are starting to click together. The system is doing what you would hope it would, and that is be a system: Those persons that need to be in jail, that are dangerous, are in jail. … Those people that should be in prison are in prison and those people that can be monitored in the community are," Hardinger said. "I get this picture in my mind; I have all these pigeon slots, and the secret is to get the right person into the right pigeon slot."
Part of getting the right person in the right "slot" is making sure nonviolent, low-level drug offenders get into some sort of treatment before they commit enough crime to wind up at risk of significant time in jail or prison.
Identifying offenders early
When someone steals from a relative, an unlocked car or even a store to subsidize a drug habit, they will often pawn items to get cash quickly to purchase drugs, according to Maj. Charles Rapp, head of the Criminal Investigative Division of the Sheriff's Office.
A frequent visitor to pawn shops will be flagged by police tracking the statewide pawn database, Rapp said, and investigators can then look into the transactions in more detail. Often, the person used a photo ID to complete the transaction, leaving the ultimate paper trail.
"The need to get high far outweighs the fear of getting caught," DeWees said.
Galloway said many defendants probably know they will be caught, but they are desperate to support a heroin habit that can cost more than $100 per day.
"What's your alternative in order to get the drugs?" he said.
When that person stealing to support a habit gets their first theft conviction, they are usually given probation before judgment and sent out the door, often without an order for drug testing, DeLeonardo said.
"It's not very difficult to figure out that when you have a 22-year-old stealing jewelry from Boscov's that there's a drug problem," he said.
The signs of addiction are noticeable for anyone who cares to look. By the time they get their first theft charge, according to Galloway, a person has most likely been using drugs for a while.
When the underlying cause of their crime is substance abuse, DeLeonardo said, the system is setting defendants up to re-offend by releasing them without supervision or resources. These defendants fly under the radar until they've racked up more theft charges or committed a more serious crime — it's only then that they become candidates for Carroll County Drug Treatment Court, an intensive, 13-month treatment program.
Drug court is really the last stop before prison, and DeLeonardo believes it is important to have more "stops" in the way to catch people before they fall that far. In September, his office launched a program that gives new, low-level offenders a chance to enroll in a drug treatment program with the Carroll County Health Department. Those who complete the program and work with a peer recovery mentor to help them through the continual aftercare of the recovery process may become eligible to have their criminal records wiped clean.
"What I am trying to do is put drug court out of business, because what I am trying to do is to intervene with these — a lot of these new users, or mid-level users — so they don't get to the point where they have one foot in the Department of Corrections," DeLeonardo said.
The program is still in its infancy, but DeLeonardo said it is expected that some of the offenders being screened and starting the program right now could complete the intensive treatment portion in 12 months.
Overdoses as crime scenes
Law enforcement traditionally respond to drug overdoses along with emergency personnel, but charges are rarely filed.
At the scene, police make every attempt to begin working backward and tracking the source of the drug in an attempt to find high-level dealers.
DeLeonardo was a proponent of the Heroin Death Prevention Act, a law introduced in the General Assembly earlier this year that would have increased penalties for defendants whom police could prove distributed heroin or fentanyl that caused a fatal overdose.
The bill stalled and was tabled until the upcoming 2016 session, but it recently received a nod of support when the governor's Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force — a council of addiction recovery advocates, law enforcement and public health officials chaired by Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford — recommended passing similar legislation in its final report issued Dec. 1.
"I think when you see such a comprehenisve report, with so many different stakeholders, and one of the things that they noted was that that legislation really should be done, I think it shows that we had it right and hopefully that will come back," DeLeonardo said.
DeWees said Carroll County has asked to be declared a federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HITDA), which not only brings funding to combat drug trafficking but also gives police access to U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration data analysis. That application is still pending.
All of the counties surrounding Carroll — Frederick, Howard, Montgomery and Baltimore — have been designated as HIDTA counties, according to a map on the program's website.
"We're sort of an island unto ourselves in the central region of Maryland," DeLeonardo said. "The governor wrote a letter in support of our application, as has congressman [Andy Harris, R-District 1], so we are very hopeful that we will hear soon that we will be admitted as a participant in that program."
To qualify as a HIDTA, Carroll must show it is a significant center of illegal drug activity and has committed significant state and local resources to combat the problem, according to DeLeonardo. The application also asks how drugs in Carroll impact the region and whether HIDTA membership would help law enforcement respond.
Being connected to other law enforcement agencies in the region is essential to combating the drug problem in Carroll, DeLeonardo said, and HIDTA membership brings with it funding, training, equipment and information sharing.
Early intervention before the arrest
Good Samaritan laws protect a 911 caller who seeks help for an overdose victim even if they were also using illegal drugs.
The law is meant to encourage a drug user to call for assistance without fear of being charged with a crime, but DeLeonardo said it also means police are coming into contact with an addict who does not get pulled into the justice system.
Without criminal charges, DeLeonardo found another way to try to connect drug users with resources: He sends Tim Weber.
Weber is a fixture in the recovery community and was recently hired by the State's Attorney's Office to respond to overdoses and try to make connections as a part of an overdose response team.
A recovering drug user himself, Weber is the founder of Weber Sober Homes and the Triangle Recovery Club.
Using funding received from the Carroll County Board of Commissioners, Weber was hired by the State's Attorney's Office to serve as a drug treatment and education coordinator.
Weber has been called to overdose scenes already and tries to provide a sympathetic ear as well as resources.
"The first time [an overdose] happens, they're really scared, so if you can get there right away, you have a better chance of getting them help," Weber said.
After a few times, Weber explained, overdoses just become part of life as a drug user.
Even if the person does not accept help that night, DeLeonardo said, maybe they kept the business card Weber gave them and will call someone later.
As the overdose response team grows, Weber will oversee a group of mentors who will be paired with someone with similar experiences. The mentor will partner up with whomever they are assigned to and attend self-help meetings with them and point them to other resources.
"There's more people like me," Weber said. "There's people who have lived with horrific opioid addictions."
Increased overdoses strain resources across the board, according to DeLeonardo, beginning with the first responders.
"We now have someone to follow up," DeLeonardo said of the overdose response team. "They save the life that night, but he has to save the life going forward."
Aggressive stance on drug dealers
There are some drug dealers who are selling to support their own habit, the so-called user-dealer. Others, however, set up shop in Carroll purely to make a profit from the addicted population.
Dealers can come to Carroll and mark up the price of their products because they are making it easier and safer for their customers.
"There's a perception that it's dangerous to go to Baltimore," Coyne said.
These outsider sellers also benefit from the perceived safety of Carroll County compared to the city, according to District Court Chief Attorney Adam Wells. They can increase their profits and get out of the city to do business.
DeLeonardo said his office as well as law enforcement are trying to be proactive about identifying outside dealers and gathering information for prosecutors.
The Carroll County Drug Task Force consists of three Maryland State Police troopers, three Carroll County Sheriff's Office deputies and a Westminster Police Department officer. Five additional deputies will be added to identify and target repeat offenders.
DeWees said not all instances of drug distribution rise to such a level that they require the task force's resources, which include surveillance, controlled buys and other covert activities.
For example, he said, residents in New Windsor called the Sheriff's Office earlier this summer because they were concerned by two men who moved into an apartment and appeared to have a lot of traffic coming and going.
The case was not serious enough to divert drug task force resources, DeWees said, but deputies investigated and got enough probable cause to make arrests rather than waiting for more obvious signs of drug dealing.
"We're trying to handle the quality of life issues a little better," he said.
Things are starting to move in response to great efforts by his office and its law enforcement partners, according to DeWees. He believes they are finally beginning to get some traction on the drug problem, but there's a lot more pushing — and pushing uphill — to go.
"The heroin and opiate addiction problem didn't develop overnight, and it certainly won't be solved that way either," DeWees said. "We've made great gains in reducing the amount of overdoses and deaths associated with heroin addiction, but we have an awful lot more to do."
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