The envelope, please: Awards for victories in war on drugs

The Baltimore Sun

So, a former city police commissioner is miffed at the sitting city police commissioner for hyping a drug bust.

Five years ago, Kevin P. Clark stood in front of the TV cameras and hailed the seizure of 338 pounds of cocaine, describing it as one of the largest in recent years.

A week ago, Frederick H. Bealefeld III stood in front of the TV cameras and hailed the seizure of 90 pounds of cocaine, describing it as the biggest in the Baltimore Police Department's history.

Clark called the newspaper to complain.

Sorry, Mr. Clark - while your pile of cocaine was indeed bigger than Bealefeld's pile of cocaine, the top award you can hope for is best supporting cop.

Your detectives had help - the tip that led to your seizure came from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement about a drug shipment hidden aboard a freighter from South America.

Bealefeld raised the bar. His cops had no help, and that's a record if you're keeping track of arrests in this particularly nuanced award group.

"This was exclusively BPD," the commissioner's spokesman told me. "There was no involvement with the feds as far the seizure."

So, if we're handing out Academy Awards for cocaine seizures, Bealefeld's Oscar might read "Best director for a drug bust," while Clark's might read "Best supporting director for a drug bust."

Of course, something went unsaid at the news conference but was spelled out in court documents: City cops had the suspected dealer in their sights two years ago, had to abandon their investigation when they got transferred to chase crime elsewhere and only got back to him last month.

Maybe they could've used some help after all and gotten him off the streets sooner.

But Baltimore police aren't alone in finding creative ways to create "record busts" by inventing categories. Here are some other guilty parties, using their own record-setting words:

* The "largest highway seizure of crack" award goes to the Maryland State Police for 14.2 pounds of cocaine found during a car stop on the John F. Kennedy Highway in 1996.

* The "largest single cocaine seizure along a state roadway" award also goes to the state police, who found 176 pounds of it in a cooler in a Buick LeSabre in Cecil County in 2006

* The "largest drug seizure in Maryland history" award goes to the Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI for confiscating 2,000 pounds of cocaine from a Baltimore warehouse in 1997.

* And the "record seizure of marijuana at the port" award goes to the U.S. Customs Service for finding 2 tons of reefer hidden in air-tight compartments built into 86 pieces of furniture that came from Mexico in 2001.

I don't begrudge the cops credit for large drug seizures.

They're impressive, and the commissioner, whoever he is, standing next to piles of cocaine guarded by imposing machine-gun-carrying tactical cops makes for great photos and serves as a healthy reminder that cocaine and heroin are as much a part of Baltimore's commerce as football and crabs.

That the cops design a record to fit the seizure helps push the story to the front pages and onto our television screens.

But it is a sad reminder that the drugs keep pouring in despite year after year of "record seizures." Wouldn't be nice to see Bealefeld standing in front of an empty pallet declaring victory in the drug war?

Until then, rest assured, Mr. Clark: Your supporting role in curbing the city's drug trade is duly noted and remains on the record books.

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Talk with Peter Hermann about crime at baltimoresun.com/crime

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