Police union upset by change in rules on felony drug charges


The union representing Baltimore police officers is "outraged" that prosecutors have doubled the minimum amount of drugs needed to charge suspects with felonies and has asked the state's attorney to reconsider.

"It says drug dealing is no different than spitting on the sidewalk," said Officer Gary McLhinney, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3. "Both are now misdemeanors in the city of Baltimore."

State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy said Monday she wanted to clear overcrowded court dockets caused by police rounding up drug dealers in large sweeps that have become routine in the past two years.

Under the new rules, a person can be caught with up to 30 rocks of crack cocaine -- or 30 unit bags of heroin or powdered cocaine -- and be charged only with possession. That's double the amount of drugs that used to qualify offenders for felony distribution charges.

The new rules, supported by the administrative judge of Baltimore Circuit Court, comes after an internal memo prepared by the state's attorney's office several months ago. The memo predicted that the drug raids would flood the court system.

The new policy has a number of exceptions, allowing suspects caught with smaller amounts of drugs to be charged with felonies if they have long criminal records, if drug paraphernalia or weapons are found, or if the address in question is known for drug trafficking.

Officer McLhinney said Mrs. Jessamy's change in policy "is typical of a bureaucrat who sits behind her desk and is blind to real-life situations the Baltimore City state's attorney's office is hampering the war on drugs rather than supporting it."

The union president said a court backlog is no excuse for easing up on drug dealers. "Police officers are doing their jobs. It's the rest of the system that's failing," Officer McLhinney said.

Lt. Nicholas Palmeri, head of the department's narcotics unit, said that the "rank and file are kind of upset that the standards have been raised that high. We have not heard if [the dealers] are changing tactics -- carrying 29 bags instead of 30. It doesn't take long for them to catch on."

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