The Baltimore Police recently announced the completion of a fairly large heroin bust, which led to two arrests and the recovery of drugs, cash, and a firearm. This particular bust was not the product of a long-term police investigation, but rather it was based on a tip from a concerned Greenspring Avenue neighbor in the northwest part of the city. Metro Crime Stoppers received the tip and relayed it over to the police for further investigation. Officers staked out the home of the alleged drug dealer, and then followed him as he drove away. A short time later cops made a traffic stop of the suspect’s vehicle, and conveniently had the K-9 unit on standby ready to conduct a drug sniff. After the dog hit a positive on the car the man was taken into custody while the police sought a search warrant for his home. The warrant was signed and upon executing the search police found 4 kilograms of heroin valued at upwards of $400,000. State and local police officers typically use the street value of the drugs in their reports and press releases, which is based on the optimum profitability achieved by selling small quantities. City police officers also seized $80,000 cash and a stolen handgun from out of state. There is no final word on whether the dealer will be charged in Baltimore City, or whether the feds will take on the prosecution.
This recent drug bust comes at an interesting time for crime fighting in Baltimore City. The police department has consistently stated a desire to focus their efforts on combatting violent crimes such as robbery, assault, and murder. The violent crime rates in the city are alarmingly high and have shown little signs of improving. On the other hand there is no chance the police would fail to act on a large-scale drug tip. These busts generally create positive news headlines for the department, while at the same time taking well funded and often well armed criminals off the street.
Anonymous tips do not always pan out and are sometimes an invitation for the police to violate a person’s rights, but it seems that this particular case was handled by the book. It is always suspicious when cops are performing surveillance one minute and the next are conducting a traffic stop with a K-9 unit on hand. But these so called pretextual stops, where a driver is stopped for a minor (or made up) traffic violation for the sole purpose of advancing an unrelated criminal investigation, are legal under the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Constitution. The only requirement is that the traffic stop be legitimate, which obviously gives police way too much leeway to see things like a suspected drug dealer “rolling through” a stop sign, making a right on a red arrow, or going 11 over the speed limit. But challenges to the traffic stop will usually fall on deaf ears on the bench, and as long as cops wait for a search warrant the evidence will usually be held admissible. Police are well aware that suspects are most vulnerable when they are on the road due to numerous automobile exceptions to search and seizure rights. This is why many of the largest drug busts begin as a simple traffic stop.