Dec. 6-CUMBERLAND, Md. - Area law enforcement officials asked county officials for an increase in staffing to battle escalating drug crime in Allegany County.
State's Attorney James F. Elliott, Sheriff Craig Robertson and Jon Dudiak, operations supervisor of the county Combined Criminal Investigation Unit, met with the Board of Commissioners at the county office complex on Thursday.
Robertson warned of the possible return of crystal methamphetamine to the area while crack and fentanyl are already prevalent. He is seeking an additional road deputy as well as an investigator to work narcotics and assist C3I.
"Our office's original staff in the 1990s had 17 investigators and we are down now to about eight investigators for the whole county and the caseload has definitely gone up," Robertson said.
"In the last four or five months, my office alone has removed about $700,000 in seizures taken off the road - cash which has been connected with CDS."
Elliott said the recent spike in drugs has been significant.
"In 2020, narcotics (investigators) seized 509 grams of cocaine, 574 grams of crack and 1,300 grams of fentanyl, which are astronomical numbers for us," he said. "This year, in 2021, we seized 1,500 grams of cocaine, 1,000 grams of crack and 2,500 grams of fentanyl. It is growing exponentially worse at this point."
Elliott said drug-related indictments in 2019 and 2020 totaled 62, while his office has had 114 indictments in 2021 so far. He is seeking to add one attorney and one paralegal to his staff.
"Caseloads are significant and the evaluations that go into those cases are significant as well," he said. "We have, including myself, nine attorneys. We are working six and seven days a week to try to keep up with it, all the while assisting the sheriff's department, Cumberland Police, Frostburg and every other agency, including the Maryland State Police in Allegany County. To say we are understaffed is an understatement to say the least.
'Different set of problems'
"The transition from heroin to fentanyl is taking place because it is cheaper to manufacture and cheaper to purchase," he said. "Drug crimes aren't being punished the way they should be." he added. "We are having these lower sentencing guidelines."
Elliott said one offender from Baltimore had three prior distribution convictions and "came here again and was caught and got just five years."
"Now we aren't seeing as much influx of the out-of-towners (dealing), but now everyone and their brother that has an interest, will drive to Baltimore and do it. They will go and buy a cap of fentanyl for $6 and come up here and sell it for $25 to $30. They are flooding the area. That is why we are a high-traffic area," said Elliott.
"We are also beginning to see methadone pods and crystal meth show up and if that takes a hold we are going to have a whole different set of problems that will make heroin and fentanyl look like nothing," said Robertson.
"The numbers will triple and quadruple if that takes place," Elliott said. "Until the larger areas in Central Maryland take the control in the legislative direction - and they have no interest in prosecuting these crimes - until that changes we got a problem."
Money for additions
Allegany County Administrator Jason Bennett said money to cover the staffing requests can come from federal American Rescue Plan Act funding.
"Crime has increased as a residual of the pandemic and the back of that is that court traffic has also increased," said Bennett. "It might make good sense to go ahead and utilize some of those funds for three years to go ahead and fund the positions and get it started. That will give time on the back end and give us time to see how we can fund them permanently."
"I'm happy to do this because I know your workload has increased and we want to help you do a good job," said Commissioner Jake Shade.
Commissioner Dave Caporale said, "If you don't have public safety, you really can't have much else."
Greg Larry is a reporter at the Cumberland Times-News. Follow him on Twitter @GregLarryCTN.