The high-profile Harford County Narcotics Task Force, which has had a leading role in investigating illegal opioid traffic in the county and elsewhere in the region, has a new commander.
Harford County Sheriff’s Office Capt. W. Michael Crabbs took over the task force Saturday from Capt. Lee Dunbar, who assumed the role of commander of the Sheriff’s Office’s Criminal Investigations Division.
Dunbar was named commander after the retirement of Capt. James Eyler, who was with the Sheriff’s Office for 30 years, according to Cristie Kahler, director of media relations for the Sheriff’s Office.
Crabbs, who has been with the Sheriff’s Office for 24 years after retiring from Baltimore County Police after more than 21 years, and Dunbar, with the Sheriff’s Office for 23 years, have had relatively parallel career paths with the agency and worked closely together as they’ve come up through the ranks.
Their relationship should help their new divisions work even more closely with each other, Maj. William Davis, head of the agency’s Police Operations bureau.
“[Capt. Crabbs] is going to come in [to the task force] with fresh looks, his own ideas. His investigative background, his relationship with [Capt. Dunbar], they can meld those two things together to increase our intelligence across the agency,” Davis said.
As commander of CID, Dunbar will oversee a division of about 40 people, sworn deputies and civilians. He will manage the major case unit, which includes personal crimes such as homicides, shootings, rapes and serious assaults; property crimes including burglary and theft; white collar crimes like identity theft and fraud; auto theft; the forensic and crime scene units including computer crimes; the Child Advocacy Center; and victim services.
Dunbar said he expressed a desire to move to CID.
“It’s bittersweet, but I look forward to it,” Dunbar, 47, said. “I want the challenge. I’m coming toward the end of my career. I can retire in three years. With [Eyler] retiring, it’s something I want to go back to, there’s something I can offer the men and women there. You don’t want to get so comfortable where you are, you need to continue to grow.”
New task force leader
Crabbs is taking over a unit that is highly specialized — “narcotics-centric,” Dunbar called it.
The detectives in the unit — comprised of police from the Sheriff’s Office, Maryland State Police, Aberdeen, Bel Air and Havre de Grace police departments, the DEA and Harford State’s Attorney’s Office — investigate all aspects of narcotics activity in Harford County, including drug-trafficking organizations and fatal and non-fatal overdoses.
Heroin use in Harford County, as well as the rest of the country, has surged in the last decade, and the Harford Task Force has been at the forefront of the fight to stem the tide, often leading the way for other area law enforcement agencies in their efforts.
It has also disrupted multiple drug-trafficking organizations that contribute to the drug trade not only in Harford County but across the region. One of its investigations led to the takedown of the Baltimore City Police Gun Trace Task Force, where officers were robbing drug dealers of money and drugs and committing other crimes and misconduct.
Crabbs was with the Harford task force as a lieutenant and is familiar with its work, he said.
“I’ve been an investigator all my life, so I feel very, very good about going back into an investigative role,” he said. “The task force has done a tremendous job on the heroin front, a tremendous job. I look forward to continuing the relationship.”
His last few years have been in community policing, which includes animal control, crime analysis and criminal intelligence.
“The community services division helped balance me out. I was dealing with a lot of negatives a lot of time, so that was really a fun part of my career, dealing with positives all the time — community awareness events, kids in school, youth academies, Explorer programs, Christmas drives — that helps give you some balance,” Crabbs said.
The narcotics world is constantly changing, he said, so he’ll always be facing challenges. But the only one he really sees is to continue the work Dunbar has done before him.
“Lee has left a legacy behind, so to continue along that path and ensure we’re dedicated to that mission of the task force, that’s the only challenge I see now,” Crabbs said.
Dunbar will assume command of a unit that is much broader than the Task Force, and he’ll have to get to know and understand the inner workings of the divisions, the personnel and how they work, what their needs are and the areas that can be approved upon.
“This is a multi-faceted division and multi-felony crimes you have to investigate, it’s a challenge,” he said. “I hope that we can improve our numbers there, our solvability rates for thefts and burglaries will go up.”
Dunbar, who was with the task force for eight years as a lieutenant and captain, hopes to bring some of the unit’s techniques to criminal investigations.
Chief among them is the idea of having a detective from each Harford police agency on a “task force” of sorts to collaborate on investigating criminal activity, he said, similar to how the task force operated.
“The benefit is the same as in narcotics — sharing intell,” Dunbar said. “A lot of our burglary suspects, they don’t have boundaries. If they’re breaking into houses here, committing theft schemes, or shootings or drugs, they don’t look at boundaries.”
To criminals, there’s no difference between the county and Aberdeen or Havre de Grace or Bel Air, he said.
“It would help break down those barriers to have those detectives under the same roof, working together every day, sharing intell,” Dunbar said. “I think there’s a lot to be gained from that, sharing that information every single day.”
When Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler was the commander at the Maryland State Police Bel Air Barrack, he assigned a detective to work with the Sheriff’s Office, Davis said.
“Having detectives in the same room, talking about the same crimes, being able to share intelligence, would be a big help for countywide enforcement,” he said. “When we start talking together, we discover common crimes, common suspects we didn’t know about before.”
Such discussions come up at weekly COMSTAT meetings, where representatives of local law enforcement meet and discuss recent activity, but “if we were all in the same room already discussing those things, it would speed things up,” Davis said.
The two divisions are intertwined, and Davis is hoping that relationship between Crabbs and Dunbar will improve the communication between the divisions.
“A lot of the people who commit violent crimes are generally involved in the narcotic trade,” Davis said.
The two know each other’s management styles and will make sure their divisions work together, Dunbar said.
“We understand how important it is to integrate personnel on a daily basis. A lot of times you do get stuck in those silos,” he said. “A lot of times we need to remind them that the people they’re looking at in narcotics are the suspects you’re looking at in CID.”
The Criminal Investigation Division is a “critical piece” in the Sheriff’s Office’s crime fight, Davis said.
“If we’re not solving crimes, it makes it hard to prevent crimes in the future,” he said, “because if you’re not putting away the bad guys who are committing the crimes, they continue to commit crimes.”
Dunbar brings an investigative background and has done a great job with the Task Force, Davis said. He’s hoping he’ll put a fresh look at CID, and Crabbs will do the same with the Task Force, Davis said.
To survive in the law enforcement profession, you have to be adaptable, Crabbs said.
“The profession has changed, and in order to survive, you have to continue to change with it,” he said, and that’s what he plans to do, alongside Dunbar.
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“Lee and I are going to work extremely close together. He’s always been a mentor and we’ve always worked well together,” Crabbs said. “There’s nothing we can’t talk about.”