Maryland State Police yesterday defended their raid on The Block, saying that major dealers openly moved large quantities of drugs along the strip of show bars and adult book stores.
"Contrary to some of the things that I've read, this is a big case," Maj. John P. Cook Jr. said at a news conference.
Major Cook spearheaded Friday night's raid, which involved 500 state troopers.
A four-month state police undercover investigation and that raid resulted in 85 arrests and the filing of 600 criminal charges, many of them for drug distribution, he said.
Among those arrested was Freddie E. Weaver Sr., 46, of the 500 block of Chapelgate Lane, who state police allege sold 10 ounces of crack cocaine a week on The Block.
Police said the alleged kingpin's network included dancers and doormen at 20 clubs on The Block, and they charged him with 24 drug-related crimes.
State police said other arrests disrupted two of the many heroin and cocaine operations doing business between New York and Baltimore.
In all, the state police operation involved the undercover purchase of $40,000 worth of illegal drugs and led to the seizure of $75,000 in cash and numerous guns.
The high-profile raid on the 300 and 400 blocks of E. Baltimore St. was followed by a tour by Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who proclaimed The Block a relic.
Police seized liquor licenses from most clubs, forcing the businesses to close for several days.
The clubs reopened after obtaining copies of the liquor licenses.
But while state police attempted to paint The Block as a center of drug dealing and vice in Baltimore, city officials quietly maintained that the area was never seen as a major problem by them.
"Quite honestly, we have other priorities," said one official. "The Block was not our biggest problem."
And city police spokesman Sam Ringgold said, "We continue to focus on the neighborhoods and areas hard hit by violent crime."
State police dismissed suggestions at the news conference that the raid represented overkill.
The large number of officers was needed to cordon off a large area of downtown to facilitate the operation, Mr. Cook said.
"We had about two minutes to isolate and contain the area."
State Police Superintendent Larry Tolliver also brushed aside suggestions that the investigation was done without the cooperation of city police, who played only a minor role in the raid.
"Without the city police, we would not have been able to do this," he said, pointing out that city officers helped state police throughout the four-month investigation.
State police said the investigation led them to conclude that many of the bars and other businesses on The Block survive mainly on profits from prostitution and drug dealing.
"Without the prostitution and illegal drugs, I don't think The Block will survive," Mr. Cook said.