Because of incorrect information provided by Maryland state police, a story in the Oct. 1 edition of the Maryland Weekly said that Prince George's County and Baltimore were the only local jurisdictions in Maryland that operate police drug laboratories. Montgomery County also operates a police drug lab. (Published 10/29/87)

Since the late 1970s, the mushrooming use of illegal drugs in Prince George's County has strained local law enforcement officers' ability to get critical analyses from the state police lab, often leading to the dismissal or downgrading of charges against suspected drug dealers and users.

But that is expected to change on Monday, when the county opens its own drug analysis laboratory at the old Kent Middle School on Barlowe Road in Palmer Park. The laboratory, put together at a cost of almost $600,000, will be only the second drug analysis facility in the state run by a local government, county and state officials said. Baltimore police also operate a drug laboratory.

"We'll start taking {drug} samples on Monday," said Ed Brown, the director of the laboratory who spent two years planning the facility. "Hopefully, we will be on top of things."

Drug cases account for about 35 percent of the caseload in Circuit Court, according to State's Attorney Alex Williams. And in District Court, Williams said, two days every week are set aside for judges to hear drug cases, about 85 cases a week. In Juvenile Court, Williams said, two days a month are devoted to drug cases.

Those numbers have been greatly increasing over the years. In 1983, county police sent 630 suspected controlled drug samples to the state police lab in Pikesville for analysis. By 1986, the total number of samples had increased to 1,400, a doubling of the caseload in three years.

Williams, who made combating drug trafficking his theme in last year's campaign, said having the lab in Prince George's County will speed the turnaround time of analyzing drugs. "It will keep suspected {drug} dealers from being let back out on the streets to continue doing their business," Williams said. "The laboratory, increased police enforcement and the formation in our office of a special unit to prosecute narcotics cases will go a long way toward stemming drug trafficking in this county."

Former state's attorney Arthur A. (Bud) Marshall Jr. had long advocated the construction of such a lab, but until 1985 county officials, pleading budget constraints, had put off the facility . The growing number of drug cases and crime associated with the drug problems in the county, however, prompted the decision to move ahead.

County Executive Parris Glendening, who noted that the school also will serve as the county police headquarters by 1989, said he had wanted the drug laboratory for some time. "I vowed when I first came into office that the {working conditions} for our officers would change and that our officers would have the finest facilities and tools to help them do their jobs," Glendening said. "This laboratory is one of the most important tools of all."

Last year, Prince George's County accounted for about 25 percent of the workload at the state police lab, which services police departments from around the state, said Cpl. Bruce Gentile, a county police spokesman. The Prince George's share was second only to the state police caseload

Police attribute the increased amount of drugs seized to stepped-up enforcement efforts, especially the creation of special teams called "jump out" squads on the streets. Those squads of plainclothes detectives set up surveillance at well-known outdoor drug markets and often make mass arrests after watching suspected transactions.

Another reason for the increase, police said, is work done by special action teams, which not only focus on illegal drug sales but also spend a lot of time attempting to stop drug trafficking where the distribution center is inside apartment buildings.

The more intense enforcement generated hundreds of new cases. And the result was a clogged state police laboratory, where the chemists were handling cases from every jurisdiction in the state, except for Baltimore.

In some instances, prosecutors and defense attorneys said, the backup was so severe, especially in District Court cases, that charges were dropped because of the state's rule that defendants must be brought to trial before 181 days after being charged or indicted. For the past 18 months, the county hired several full- and part-time chemists to work at the state police laboratory exclusively on Prince George's County cases.

Defense attorneys frequently took advantage of rules in drug cases that require state employes who had custody of a suspected illegal drug to testify in the drug cases for leverage to get prosecutors to agree to reduced charges against their clients.

The state police chemists would have to travel from Pikesville to Upper Marlboro or Hyattsville for the hearing and sometimes did not show up, prosecutors and defense attorneys said. "There were a lot of cases that were disposed of in ways they should not have been," Marshall remembered.

Brown, the new lab's director, said the facility will employ five chemists and two technicians when fully staffed. Each of the chemists will be able to analyze 50 samples a month, he said.

The laboratory will use the latest equipment available in drug analysis, Brown said, including some that the state police had purchased but not started using.

"I went around the country looking at similar facilities and took the best ideas from all of them," said Brown. "The equipment we have is the same equipment used by the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration."

Initially, the lab's chemists will analyze only drug samples, Brown said. But the facility is designed to be able to analyze fluid samples in other criminal investigations, including sexual assault and homicides, he added. It also has a laboratory for researching ways to analyze drug samples, he said.