Daniel unopposed at hearing

City police nominee reviews priorities in fight against crime

`He's everything we want'

Survey by Dixon finds citizens lack confidence in police

February 03, 2000|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Col. Ronald L. Daniel moved a step closer to confirmation as Baltimore's police commissioner yesterday, sailing through a City Council hearing on his nomination.

No one opposed Daniel's nomination in the two-hour session before the council's Executive Nominations Committee.

During the hearing, Daniel pledged to make police supervisors more accountable for reducing crime and to step up efforts to weed out any departmental corruption.

Daniel, a 26-year veteran, also unveiled a chart showing his new departmental structure, under which top managers have been reduced by more than half -- from 13 to 6.

Daniel said that if he is approved by the full council, being commissioner would be an honor and a great challenge.

"We have a Police Department that has been pummeled in recent years by its inability to seriously reduce violent crime," Daniel told council members.

He listed filling 250 police vacancies and returning 250 additional officers from sick leave, injury and suspension as top priorities. The West Baltimore native also said he probably would restructure the Police Athletic League in an effort to get its 77 officers back onto the streets.

Mayor Martin O'Malley's nominee to head the 3,200-member force gained the support of several longtime department critics, including state Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV.

"He's everything we want in a police commissioner," Mitchell said.

The presidents of the Fraternal Order of Police union and the Vanguard Justice Society, an organization of black officers, testified that morale in the department has improved in the month since Daniel was appointed.

"He's a no-nonsense leader," said FOP President Gary McLhinney.

An hour before Daniel's confirmation hearing, Council President Sheila Dixon released results of a survey that showed residents lack confidence in Baltimore police.

With the aid of the University of Baltimore, Dixon questioned 277 residents at recent community forums on public safety. Sixty percent of the respondents said they believed the department was racist and would not apprehend an offender committing a crime against them.

A majority of respondents -- 55 percent -- said their neighborhoods were unsafe and lacked adequate policing.

Seven of 10 respondents, however, said they believed police were honest, competent and sincere, and 59 percent said they supported O'Malley's plans to implement the so-called "zero tolerance" policing strategy.

"There is a great deal to be encouraged about in the results of this survey," Dixon said. "But I think it is very clear that Commissioner Daniel and his department have some serious perception issues to deal with in the community."

Dixon was most troubled by respondents who viewed officers as racists, she said.

"If we are not able to reach a level of trust between neighborhoods and our officers, we're in serious trouble," she said.

Two years ago, Daniel was exiled by former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to a little known City Hall grant-writing office after he challenged former Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier. Daniel had told a private meeting of black officers that Frazier should be dismissed if he did not deal with concerns over alleged racism in the department.

Yesterday, after hearing the survey results, Daniel acknowledged that racism exists in the department. He said it can be addressed best by dealing with problem officers and improving training.

"Like any other police department, there are racial problems," Daniel said. "All of these problems can and will be addressed by proper management."

As part of his restructuring, Daniel has appointed two deputy commissioners, one to handle administration and a second to oversee operations. Four other divisions -- legal affairs, internal affairs, public affairs and the inspection unit -- will report directly to him, he said.

Earlier yesterday, the panel held similar hearings on the reappointments of Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, the health commissioner, and Fire Chief Herman Williams Jr.

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