About a decade ago, school authorities in Anne Arundel County began to notice that urban-style drug problems were cropping up in the schools of the largely rural county.
At the time, school authorities stiffened penalties against drug possession and distribution, but assistant school superintendent Barry Carter said the schools then had little expertise in the kind of drug investigation necessary to root out the problem: largely that of students smoking marijuana and taking pills such as amphetamines.
School officials say they quickly formed a close partnership with the Anne Arundel County police -- a closer partnership, they say, than those formed by their counterparts in more urban counties. Today, police and school authorities in Anne Arundel agree that the marriage of nearly 10 years has produced a high degree of trust between the two agencies.
As a result, when two narcotics detectives from the juvenile offenders division went undercover at three Anne Arundel high schools last fall, they could count on the county school board giving them a free hand in their search for drug distributors.
"It was a carte blanche: 'Do what ever you have to do,'" said Lt. Clarence Smith, head of the Anne Arundel Criminal Investigations Division. "There were no pre-set guidelines."
What police say they found were students selling drugs to other students and, in some instances, to the undercover detectives. Police arrested 33 alleged student dealers, who led them to 14 adults described by police as suppliers. All were arrested last week and charged with distribution of controlled dangerous substances. It was the largest number of arrests made in a drug bust in Anne Arundel history, police said.
No court dates have been set yet for either othe juveniles or the adults.
Anne Aarundel is wwedged in the urban corridor between Washington and Baltimore, just east of partly rural Prince George's County. Police contend that Anne Arundel's long, jagged coastline on the Chesapeake Bay has made it a harbor for vessels smuggling drugs into the area.
Smith gave credit to former county executive Robert A. Pascal for his interest in the youth drug problem.
Because of that interest, Police Chief Maxwell V. Fry in 1974 divided narcotics enforcement into two groups, one for teen-age offenders and the other for adults. The natuarl province for the juvenile squard activities was the schools, officials said.
As a result, Anne Arundel police maintain that they have taken a more active role in keeping drugs out of schools than any police department in the Washington area. Each summer for the past three years, Sgt. Gary Lyle, who is in charge of seven juvenile investigators, and assistant school superintendent Carter have planned some type of campaign against drugs for the coming school year. Last year, for example, police posing as custodians arrested 22 students on drug charges at four Anne Arundel high schools.
Baltimore and Howard counties have used police cadets as undercover agents in school drug operations in the past, but Price George's and Montgomery counties have not invited police into their schools, preferring to handle the problem with their own security forces, according to school officials in those areas.
"There was some community resistance before, but now we've gotten broad community support," said Carter about the police presence in Anne Arundel schools.
After spending five months in Meade High School on the U.S. Army base at For Meade, the two undercover detectives -- members of the force for about three years who went by the names "Eric" and "Scott" -- had a similarly high opinion about Anne Arundel school system.
"I was impressed with the Anne Arundel school facilities," said Eric, who was raised in the District and attended private school thre. "They have nice teachers and equipment and they don't tolerate misbehavior -- not like in D.C."
Each morning during the five-month period of investigation, Eric and Scott would arrive at the Fort Meade school to attend classes, where teachers did not know their real identities. Eric said he got so involved in his assumed identity that when mid-term exams came around, he "couldn't help feeling concerned" about the tests.
For Scott, a slight, boyish-looking man in his early twenties who was raised in western Maryland, the toughest adjustment was learning to listen to student comments about the police without flinching.
Bot detectives said, however, that although they felt some remorse about implicating youngsters who had become their friends, they had no regrets about the arrests.
"You feel a little bad about little Johnnie who has never been in trouble before," Eric said. "But then again, I might be doing him a favor."