There's some good news and bad news in the war on drugs in Harford County.

The good news is the state police crack down on drug trafficking on Interstate 95 between the Baltimore-Harford county line and Cecil County is successfully deterring many drug dealers from using the highway to move narcotics, state police say.

The bad news is dealers now are avoiding Interstate 95, using new routes to transport drugs. Two of those routes are Chesapeake Bay and the Susquehanna River, say state police.

But the state Department of Natural Resources has good news on that front: The department is forming a unit to investigate and prevent drug trafficking on Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

But there's bad news here also. DNR administrators don't know when the new unit will start operations, because the state's hiring freeze has prevented the department from staffing the unit, said Thomas R. Turner, commander of the department's support services.

Once in operation, the drug unit will be financed by a combination of state and federal money, Turner said.

At this point, DNR officials are not sure how much drug trafficking is done on the bay, but among the new unit's first duties will be to find that out.

"It's suspected," Turner said. "That's our first mission -- to identify the nature of the problem."

Although state and local police agencies, and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration do not keep statistics on drug trafficking on the bay, police officials suspect that the bay and its tributaries are used to move significant amounts of drugs into and through Maryland.

"I think any one not believing drug trafficking is out there on the bay is missing the boat, so to speak," said Lt. E. Earl Dennis, commander of the state police's Bureau of Drug Enforcement.

Dennis said the new unit will help tie drug trafficking on the bay to cases being investigated by other law-enforcement agencies.

He added that the unit will be able to act on tips and leads more quickly than other agencies because it will have manpower and equipment available for an immediate response.

"(The unit) can only enhance law enforcement," Dennis said. "It will be a good thing."

The new unit is expected to be staffed by three people -- a supervisor and an investigator for both the Eastern Shore and the western shore of Chesapeake Bay, said Ralph L. Parker, spokesman for the department.

The unit is expected to work with other state agencies, local police departments and the drug task forces that have been formed in most Maryland counties, Parker said.

Initially, the unit's investigators will focus on developing sources and collecting leads in drug cases that will be passed on to other law enforcement agencies to make arrests, Parker said.

"We're not going out and breaking down doors," Parker said. "We're not going to go on raids."

Turner said the unit also will establish drug education and public awareness programs with the state Forest, Park and Wildlife Service.

The DNR officers now handle some drug cases, like when small amounts of narcotics are discovered on boats during routine stops, Parker said. In those incidents, the officers file charges and the cases proceed through the courts.

However when major drug trafficking is found or suspected, those cases are usually turned over to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, Parker said.

Parker noted that the department's inland stations are routinely involved in destroying drugs like marijuana when large amounts of the plants are discovered.

The department's police unit has 228 officers based at 35 marine stations and 23 inland stations.

Three DNR officers patrol the upper bay and the lower Susquehanna River.

They are stationed in Havre de Grace.

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