A narcotics task force focused entirely on dismantling drug crimes in Frederick County is becoming dismantled itself — a result of Maryland State Police pulling out of the effort.
Four Maryland state troopers have been pulled from the task force and one remaining trooper will leave in October, state police spokesman Greg Shipley told The Frederick News-Post.
Five troopers and seven Frederick County Sheriff's Office deputies made up the task force, now referred to as a "sheriff's office task force," said Sheriff Chuck Jenkins.
Shipley said troopers who had been on the task force will still work from the Frederick Barrack but will be "reassigned" to work on multijurisdictional investigations rather than local issues.
"Criminals are coming from urban areas and into a rural or suburban area to sell drugs and orientate some sort of criminal enterprise," he said. "We've shifted the focus of the entire department to take on this challenge and are doing what Maryland State Police should be doing, focusing on inter-jurisdictional criminal enterprise."
A Frederick Police Department officer on the task force was pulled in 2003 to join the department's Drug Enforcement Unit, said Police Chief Thomas Ledwell.
Jenkins said he was given only 30 days' notice that the task force would lose nearly half of its strength. He reported a 300 percent increase in tips and complaints regarding heroin use in local neighborhoods from previous years.
He detailed cases that the task force was credited with helping to dismantle, including the South Side Brims, a gang that stretched from Frederick to Salisbury in 2011.
"I'm disappointed because it has been a productive task force, at least for the 20 years I've been in law enforcement," Jenkins said. "It's a very productive unit in Frederick County, producing a lot of seizures and closures, and I hate to see it be dismantled like that."
Shipley said the new focus is based on an approach to policing that gets the agency back to its roots.
"The reason state police formed in 1921 was to have a statewide law enforcement agency that could move throughout various jurisdictions and apprehend criminals," Shipley said. "The sheriff's department is an outstanding department committed to local law enforcement. We, as a department, have to stay committed to state law enforcement."
Frederick County becomes the second jurisdiction, after St. Mary's County, to have its Maryland State Police counterpart back out of local task forces.
The St. Mary's County Bureau of Criminal Investigations was made up of three state police troopers and 11 sheriff's deputies, but went to a "criminal investigation division" when the three troopers were reassigned.
St. Mary's County Sheriff Timothy Cameron said he was also given 30 days' notice and the troopers left the unit Sept. 13.
"It was a bit of a shock. I didn't see that coming, honestly. It's disappointing," he said, adding that the task force "eliminated the dysfunction of competing agencies and had an incredible closure rate."
Troopers in other areas of the state are also being looked at for potential reassignment, Shipley said.
Shipley said the decision in Frederick County was not based on personnel or recruitment issues, though the Frederick Barrack has downsized in recent years.
Fourty-six uniformed troopers staffed the barrack last year, compared with the 36 there now, he said.
State police also handed off patrolling duties to the sheriff's office when deciding to no longer patrol state roads Urbana Pike and Buckeystown Pike.
That memorandum of understanding was formalized Aug. 28, Shipley said.
Some Frederick County residents said the task force should be expanding, not downsizing, at a time when illegal drugs are more prevalent.
"It is devastating that the state police are backing out now given the obvious epidemic that is happening with heroin use and overdoses," said Thurmont resident Jacque Burrier, who heads Project Hope Thurmont, Md., a grass-roots organization that works to raise awareness of drug overdoses.
Jenkins said he is committed to continuing the work of the task force, but he isn't certain how the department will fill the void left by the state police.
"Looking at the history of the task force and how productive we've been, I would have expected more notice," Jenkins said. "I can't fill that in 30 days."
Follow Daniel J. Gross on Twitter: @DanielJGross.