Stand-out prospects shunned

December 05, 1993|By Jim Haner | Jim Haner,Staff Writer

The volunteer panel appointed by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to hunt for Baltimore's next police commissioner has passed over some of the nation's most seasoned police executives -- targeting instead a new cadre of up-and-coming managers.

Meanwhile, critics are complaining that the mayor's order to conduct the search in secret has left the process open to internal politics.

And the length of the search -- which began in August, has run three weeks longer than originally predicted and is expected to last at least another two weeks -- has left some top candidates languishing on finalist lists in other cities competing with Baltimore for their services.

On Tuesday, San Diego Deputy Chief Norm Stamper -- who was courted by Mr. Schmoke's group in recent weeks -- was hired as chief of the Seattle Police Department from a list of five finalists that included at least one other top prospect for the Baltimore job.

Hubert Williams, the former chief of police in Newark, N.J., who is heading Mr. Schmoke's eight-member search committee, said that the criticism of Baltimore's search "is exactly what you expect to hear at this point."

"People's nerves get on edge," Mr. Williams said. "They get anxious. Some candidates start worrying about how they did in their interviews. Others are disappointed they didn't get invited for an interview and want to start taking potshots. I'd also say that no process is perfect, so there's always something to complain about.

"But I am confident that we will end up with a pool of very strong candidates that will bode well for the city of Baltimore."

Whether Baltimore will be getting the strongest possible list of candidates is another question.

Sixteen highly regarded police administrators around the country among them, veteran executives from Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Kansas City as well as Maryland -- said they haven't been contacted by the city. At a time of record turn-over in top police jobs nationwide, many of them have been finalists for chief in other major cities in recent months.

Mayor expects a top hire

Mayor Schmoke said Friday that he remains confident of Mr. Williams' ability to produce a "pool of leading lights in the law enforcement community and that one of them will be the next police commissioner of Baltimore."

"I have conducted a number of searches for top city executives in my time, and I have gone about it a number of different ways," the mayor said. "But they have always have had two things in common: You never reach everybody -- and you never have a problem coming up with a list of excellent candidates for the job.

"It's a big country out there."

Still, those in the nation's close-knit community of police chiefs // say there are fewer than 40 top-flight candidates in the country. Of them, only about a dozen are known to be seeking new posts at any time -- and their names appear repeatedly on applicants lists that are readily available from city governments.

"Most of the proven leaders who are qualified to run an agency that size are either comfortable where they are right now or would need a hell of an offer to make a move at this point in their careers," said John Pritchard, first deputy commissioner of the New York Police Department and president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.

"I would have been happy to talk to Baltimore. But as far as anybody reaching out to me, I never got a call from anybody down there, and that's what it takes these days. There aren't that many of us, and you have to give us a reason to want to move."

$93,000 salary unattractive

Among those who were not contacted by Baltimore, more than half said they didn't apply on their own because of the comparatively low salary of $93,000 advertised by the city in several national magazines and the lack of a binding contract to protect them from being fired as they undertake painful reforms in the department.

Baltimore's police commissioner serves a six-year term. But the mayor has the power to fire him at will.

Mayor Schmoke rejected early calls from the City Council to increase the city's salary offer, saying he preferred to make it negotiable with the new commissioner. "That fact was not broadcast very well to the police community nationally," said Anthony Fisher, former chief in Tacoma Park and a finalist for the chief's job in Tallahassee, Fla., who did not apply in Baltimore because of the low salary and the lack of a contract.

"Largely, the Baltimore Police Department has an excellent reputation, but the department is also having some problems. And a chief needs some incentive and some job security to take that on. Some of the things you might need to do aren't going to be popular with certain factions in the department and the community.

"A lot of chief's will be asking themselves: Why put my career on the line?"

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