AIKEN -- Narcotics Detective Wayne Clark is tired of watching junkies go free.
All too often an arrest can't be made because the drugs have been swallowed or tossed away, although crack pipes and other drug paraphernalia are in plain view.
That's why the Aiken Department of Public Safety has asked the city council to enact an ordinance to let police arrest someone for having drug paraphernalia inside city limits -- even if no drugs are found. There is no law currently on the books that enables officers to do that.
The proposal is up for a preliminary council vote March 13. The council will hold a public hearing March 27.
"The (proposed) law will allow us to become pro-active again," Detective Clark said. "We'll be able to make an arrest instead of just telling the dealers to leave. Right now, they just keep coming back."
The ordinance would allow police to make an arrest if drug residue is found on paraphernalia, which includes almost anything that can be linked to drug use or distribution. It would be a misdemeanor offense with a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.
The normal rules of search and seizure would still apply. To conduct a search, police would have to be able to show good reason existed for them to believe they'd find evidence of criminal conduct; or a suspect would have to consent to a search.
A few cities and counties in South Carolina, and throughout the country, have enacted similar ordinances, City Attorney Richard Pearce said.
In the past, the Department of Public Safety could collect drug paraphernalia as evidence but had to send it to the State Law Enforcement Division for testing to determine if enough residue existed to bring drug charges. Suspects could not be charged simply with having paraphernalia employed for drug use.
SLED eventually became flooded with paraphernalia from police throughout the state and stopped the testing program, Detective Clark said. SLED also did not want to endanger its lab technicians with jagged-edged crack pipes, he said.
If the proposed city ordinance passes, narcotics detectives would be allowed to conduct field tests to determine if paraphernalia contains drug residue. If the solution dropped on crack or cocaine turned from pink to blue, it would mean positive for residue, providing probable cause for an arrest. The same would go for marijuana, except the positive color is purple.
"This is just another tool for us to provide a safe environment for our community," Detective Clark said. "Some people may have this problem right next door."
The department receives phone calls from residents who notice a high volume of traffic at nearby homes -- vacant or inhabited.
"We'll get information about a house where drugs are being dealt. But when we roll up, they throw the dope down or eat it," he said. "But they'll have a crack pipe. Once it's been used, there's always going to be a residue."
Instead of only scaring drug addicts and dealers away for a brief time because no drugs are found, police would be able to make an arrest and deter further crime.
"This is a good thing for our city," Mayor Fred Cavanaugh said. "We want to cut down on as much drug use and crime as possible."
Police said they don't want the public to think arrests can be made for having rolling papers alone. The paraphernalia must contain a drug residue. But if rolling papers are found in the presence of marijuana, the subject would be charged for possession and drug paraphernalia.
The proposed ordinance also would outlaw sale or distribution of counterfeit drugs. Many drug dealers on the street pass soap, battery acid and household products as drugs.
In many cases, drug addicts retaliate against dealers who scam them, Detective Clark said.
"If you mess with their dope or money, they're going to hurt you," he said.
Reach Katie Throne at (803) 279-6895.
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