Top Cop Schmoked Out

August 06, 1993

Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods' ouster comes none too soon. The city's murder rate is breaking new records, larcenies and holdups are soaring and the police department enmeshed in allegations of serious internal corruption.

None of these is a problem unique to Baltimore. But that is little consolation.

Mr. Woods' four-year tenure showed that he was incapable of fighting these tough challenges and giving the police department the kind of confident leadership it requires. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke was warned of these shortcomings even before he made this appointment, but he ignored the warning.

The department's problems quickly multiplied after a reorganization a year ago removed Ronald J. Mullen from his No. 2 position and triggered a power struggle among his two co-equal successors. Although a new community policing initiative could ill afford dissension, Mr. Woods proved unable to end the rivalry between Deputy Commissioners Melvin C. McQuay and Eugene Tanzymore. Demoralization in the department grew worse.

Mr. Woods' departure in November will give Mayor Schmoke a chance to recast the department. We urge him to go outside and find a person with strong management credentials who can repolish the agency's tarnished reputation -- and to do so without regard to the question of race.

Successful top cops are hard to find. That search becomes doubly difficult if the commissioner also has to be black, which has been a qualification in Baltimore City since 1985. Such few potential candidates as Chief Reuben Greenberg of Charleston, S.C., seem to be on every big city's recruitment list.

Mr. Woods' disastrous budget performance before the City Council in the spring underscores how important it is to find a successor who not only understands law enforcement but also has mastered the fiscal aspects of the job and can act as the agency's chief public relations officer. In effect, the new commissioner needs the qualifications that one would want in the chief executive officer of an aggressive major corporation.

No appointment in the city government is more important than that of the police commissioner. Mayor Schmoke has fared poorly in his first two appointments to the post. This time, Baltimore needs a first-rate crime-fighter who can restore the citizens' trust in local law enforcement.

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