Reports that undercover state police officers misspent thousands of dollars during their investigation of Baltimore's Block is ample reason for Carroll County's Narcotics Task Force to immediately submit to a thorough audit.
Drawing a parallel between the state police' drug enforcement unit and the local task force is wholly logical.
For more than 16 months, Carroll's task force has skillfully deflected any in-depth look at its books. Groups that avoid scrutiny can develop bad habits. Witness the state police drug enforcement unit, which handled The Block undercover investigation earlier this year. The undercover police officers spent $133,000 on drinks, tips and drug buys during the four-month investigation. Almost 90 percent of those expenses lacked proper documentation and approval.
No one knows how much money the Carroll County task force has seized in its four-year existence. No one knows how much task force members have spent on investigations or on purchasing equipment. No one knows whether these purchases were properly made. No one knows whether public resources were frittered away on expenses that produced few, if any, results. These are the kinds of conditions that can lead to corruption.
Getting answers to these questions is imperative. Even though the task force pays for its operations from the proceeds from forfeitures and seizures from drug dealers and users, the organization's money belongs to the residents of Carroll County. Members of the task force are paid with taxpayer dollars, and thus must account for the way they spend that money.
Because it appears that the city of Westminster is withdrawing from the task force, it is even more urgent that a public accounting of task force money be made. How much will the Westminster town government retain as its portion of the forfeiture proceeds? How much will be turned over to the county and deposited in the general fund? How much, if any, will be retained for task force use in future investigations?
If members of the Carroll County Narcotics Task Force don't want to operate under a cloud of suspicion, they need to open the group's books and undergo a thorough audit. If they continue to stonewall, the rest of us will have every right to suspect the worst, considering what we now know about the state police drug enforcement operation on The Block that ran amok.