One year of police sweeps


March 19 marked the first anniversary of "Operation Midway," the first in a series of massive raids Thomas C. Frazier initiated after becoming Baltimore City's police commissioner. Since then, similar raids have been conducted in nearly a dozen violent, drug-infested neighborhoods.

These sweeps have been a mixed bag. Nothing underscores this better than the disconcerting fact that drugs continue to be a bane throughout the city and that the number of homicides so far is running ahead of last year's toll.

Yet the sweeps had their successes as well.

They quickly established in the public mind that Mr. Frazier, as the new top cop, was determined to do something about uncontrolled narcotics trafficking and the violence it breeds. The well-publicized raids countered frequent citizen complaints that the police knew all about drugs but did nothing to stop them.

The raids also led to a swift distribution of video cameras and other sophisticated surveillance equipment to the individual police districts so that they could plan future operations.

Indeed, those districts assumed a leading role in subsequent raids. This was both good and bad.

It was good in underscoring the front-line responsibility of districts. But while the initial "Operation Midway" had been conducted in the Barclay and East Baltimore Midway neighborhoods, a relatively compact area straddling Greenmount Avenue, many of the subsequent raids targeted territories so large that the effect was not easily discernible.

Today, the "Operation Midway" target area still is visibly different. Streets are cleaner and devoid of obvious drug activity; vacant houses remain boarded up. In contrast, many other raid areas show no visible difference at all.

The initial "Operation Midway" required time-consuming undercover work leading to the execution of arrest warrants. It required controlled drug buys by plainclothes officers. And, after the raid, it required a coordinated attack on trash and derelict houses by other city departments.

This was manageable in one location. But the more it was attempted elsewhere, the more strain was put on scarce resources. When corners were cut in pre-raid investigations, it showed.

More recent raids may have provided psychological crutches to embattled neighborhoods but their long-term impact has been questionable. Instead of drug kingpins, officers have been arresting small-time pushers who could easily be replaced.

"Operation Midway" served its purpose. If future raids cannot be conducted with similar thoroughness, they may not be worth the money and effort.

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