Montgomery County's controversial police drug raids, which began on the campuses of the county's high schools and junior highs shortly after the start of school last fall, ended quietly with the Dec. 5 firing of county police chief Robert J. diGrazia.
In part, the arrival of cold weather was responsibile for the decision to suspend the raids, county police officials say. They also say some of their major objectives have been accomplished and that the school system is overhauling its entire drug education program.
But diGrazia was the prime force behind the crackdown. And when the chief departed, his successor, Major Donald Brooks, left it up to the department's four district commanders to decide whether or not to continue the raids.
Police say the holiday season required officers to pay more attention to such things as purse snatchings and robbery. As a result, only one raid has taken place since diGrazia left and that one, at Northwood High School in Silver Spring, was made at the request of school officials.
During the course of the raids, police made more than 330 arrests of youths on or near school grounds. Almost all were charged with drug-related offenses.The raids sparked several protest marches and student-police clashes, but won the overwhelming support of county parents.
Students themselves agree that the amount of marijuana smoking on campus has declined recently, but they say this is the result of a "drought" -- hashish and marijuana are not in great supply in the county during winter months, they say.
But the legacy of the crackdown endures. White school officials continue to discuss a variety of approaches to the drug problem, many students express lowered respect for police and authority. Recently a series of hallway fights broke out at Walt Whitman High School between "freaks" and "jocks" (drug-users and athletes) in a latter-day version of the hardhats against the hippies.
In the aftermath of the crackdown teachers and other school officials are currently using free time to monitor student gathering places, such as "the hill" at Walt Whitman High School and "the pit" at Winston Churchill, and other outdoor gatering spots for midday marijuana users.
The county school board, for its part, has moved to create a special school for about 20 students "heavily involved" in drugs. The $36,000 pilot program will use peer pressure and family counseling and will operate in one of the 21 county school buildings that have been closed because of declining enrollment.
The board has also established a mandatory course in drug education for ninth graders, effective next September.
Perhaps the most noteworthy result of the raids was the formation last month of a task force composed of police, school officials and student leaders that will recommend a comprehensive drug plan to the school board next June.
Yesterday, County Executive Charles Gilchrist met with a dozen members of the group and seemed pleased with their efforts. "I'm encouraged by this group," Gilchrist said after the briefing. "They will be looking at a wide array of studies and programs and will come up with a way to stem the problem."
About one-third of the youths arrested during the fall campaign were referred to a county work program where they will clean parks and pick up garbage as punishment. Some were released after police conferred with their parents, while others were sent to county-run drug rehabilitation programs. The cases of about one-fourth of those arrested are still being processed by the county's juvenile services intake office.
According to police statistics nearly 60 percent of the youths arrested had prior arrest records -- evidence, police and school officials say, that the drug problem is confined to a relatively small corps of youths.
But a number of students feel the use of plainclothes officers by county police caused unwarranted disruptions of school life. "if you take into account the number of hours lost during the riots and all the false fire alarms that were pulled you'll see that it just wasn't worth it," said Joe Pomykala, a Whitman junior. Whitman students hurled milk cartons and fruit at county police during a November drug raid at the schools.
Other students said surveillance by plainclothes police caused "widespread paranoia" at the school and lessened respect for law officials.
More than anything else, the raids produced greater awareness by school officials of available alternative schools and programs for drug users. "If there's one thing we've learned it's that the drug situation requires a number of remedies," said Mike Tartamella, coordinator of the system's health education department. "Some kids are superficial users while others are heavy users... Therefore you've got to use a combination of curricular solutions and peer and family counseling to meet the problem."
County police say the raids may continue next spring, when the weather warms and more students gather outdoors. Gilchrist said yesterday he would not interfere in the police department's drug policy.