Woods retires as police chief amid troubles Schmoke says he didn't force commissioner out

August 05, 1993|By Roger Twigg and James Bock | Roger Twigg and James Bock,Staff Writer Staff writer Michael Fletcher contributed to this article.

Edward V. Woods announced his retirement as Baltimore's police commissioner yesterday, bringing to a close a four-year tenure marked by a soaring city murder rate and capped by fresh allegations of police corruption.

The embattled 56-year-old police chief left yesterday on a two-week vacation and could not be reached for comment. He canceled a scheduled appearance at an East Baltimore anti-crime rally at the last minute Tuesday night.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday that he did not force the commissioner out. But he added that he didn't try to discourage the 33-year department veteran from retiring.

Mr. Schmoke took pains to say that Mr. Woods' departure had "nothing to do" with City Council members' demands for his resignation, a grand jury report that described city police drug enforcement as badly managed or a report in The Sun Tuesday detailing the department's slow response to allegations of corruption among Western District narcotics officers.

The mayor said Mr. Woods told him Monday evening that he would step down.

"We had a long conversation. He simply thought that it was time to go," Mr. Schmoke said.

"We had talked about the issue of his possible retirement before. He had discussed the idea on and off for months," he said. "But I didn't think he should retire at a time when people were making outrageous statements about how he alone could turn around our homicide problem. Statements like that trivialize the problem.

Mr. Woods' retirement is effective Nov. 1. The mayor said the city would conduct a national search for a successor.

Deputy Police Commissioner Melvin C. McQuay, head of the Operations Support Bureau, will run the department until Mr. Woods returns from vacation, police officials said.

"He [Commissioner Woods] will continue to operate the department when he returns from vacation," said Agent Doug Price, a police spokesman.

Closely guarded secret

The announcement of Mr. Woods' retirement was a closely guarded secret that appeared to catch other police officials off-guard. Many huddled behind closed doors at police headquarters yesterday after word of the move filtered out.

The chief's retirement came as Baltimore, caught in a spiral of drug-related violence, was on a pace to exceed the record toll of 335 murders set last year. As of yesterday there had been 205 slayings in 1993, 12 more than for the same period last year.

Councilman Lawrence Bell, who called in January for Mr. Woods to resign if the city's violent crime problem had not eased within six months, did not claim victory yesterday.

"I don't get any pleasure out of this," the 4th District Democrat said. "We'll have victory when we cut down on the homicide rate. . . . The things that have transpired speak for themselves. I really don't want to talk about the commissioner at this point.

"I hope the mayor will move quickly to name a successor, and I think the successor should come from outside the Police Department. I think we need some new leadership," Mr. Bell said.

Mayor Schmoke defended Mr. Woods' record yesterday, as he often had during the commissioner's tenure. His only public criticism of Mr. Woods was that the commissioner did not do a good job of communicating his vision and initiatives to the public.

'A good police officer'

"I'm not ready to reflect on the man's entire history here. But I think Ed Woods has been a good police officer," Mr. Schmoke said. "And I believe he has been a good commissioner."

The city's record homicide rate, he said, "is more due to factors beyond the commissioner's control than to factors in his control." He noted that other violent crime declined in Baltimore in the first half of this year.

Mr. Schmoke said he was pleased by Mr. Woods' work to implement community policing, to initiate bicycle patrols and to move officers from clerical and administrative jobs into front-line police work.

Council President Mary Pat Clarke, a Woods critic in the past, praised him yesterday.

"He worked his way up the hard way and he took leadership of the department at the toughest point in its history," she said. "He did the best he could."

Mr. Woods was asked to operate a department that often was so financially strapped that it could not fill police officer vacancies even as violent crime increased. The department has 2,903

sworn officers, with 196 vacancies.

Faulted as administrator

Some of Mr. Woods' critics suggested that he was too weak an administrator to deal with street violence, reorganize the department and put community policing into action all at once.

The department sometimes seemed to lack direction. In the past month, for example, as 52 officers were put on foot patrol in violent neighborhoods at a cost of $1 million in overtime pay, 15 detectives were pulled off investigating serious crimes to deal with a rash of car thefts near the Camden Yards ballpark.

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