Westminster's withdrawal from the Carroll County Narcotics Task force shouldn't alarm city residents concerned about drug abuse, Westminster Police Chief Sam R. Leppo said yesterday.
The chief said that residents may see more effective drug enforcement within Westminster's boundaries now that the city police force has two full-time officers investigating narcotics violations, he said.
"It definitely won't mean less protection for the citizens of Westminster," Chief Leppo said, commenting on his decision to separate his department from the 6-year-old county task force.
"This will beef up the investigation aspect of it for Westminster citizens. It gives me the opportunity to put another officer into the drug investigations for a more concentrated effort."
Former State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman painted a different picture for city residents now that the task force and city police have chosen to part company.
""This is great news for drug dealers," said Mr. Hickman, who helped create the task force and used it full-bore in a war on drugs while he was in office. "By cooperating, we were able to go after the heart of criminal enterprises and disrupt their activities."
But Chief Leppo maintained that his drug officers -- Sgt. Andrew McKendrick, who recently returned full time to city police after six years of representing Westminster on the task force, and Sgt. Wayne Mann -- will continue to share information with the task force.
He said any tips on illegal drug activity outside of Westminster's boundaries will be relayed to the task force, and city officers expect to receive the same kind of information on activity inside the city limits.
"We have to do that for the good of all the citizens in the city of Westminster and the county, as well as the safety and well-being the officers," he said. "It needs to be done so there isn't overlapping on cases.
"The rapport we have will continue to be a working rapport. We just don't have somebody in [the task force] full time."
Resources will likely be shared if drug cases move from the county to the city or vice versa and create a joint investigation, Chief Leppo said.
In addition, city police will continue to do independent undercover drug investigations, as they have in the past, the chief said, expressing confidence that the city's undercover investigations will not be affected by the pullout from the task force.
Money from forfeitures of cars or other property used in drug transactions will continue to come to the Westminster police force if the property seized within the city limits, Chief Leppo said.
In the past, the money the city got from forfeitures as the result of task force seizures was placed in a separate account to pay for vehicles, gas or car repairs that Sergeant McKendrick needed while he served on the task force, the chief said.
He said money also was set aside for Sergeant Mann's operations.
"The law requires me to send a letter to the state's attorney with probable cause for the forfeiture," said Chief Leppo, adding that the department will continue to follow that system. "Any money [forfeited] comes back to the department and is used for continued drug operations."