Partnership goes awry

Friction: Relations between Police Commissioner Daniel and Mayor O'Malley have been marked by escalating feuds and several resignation offers.

April 01, 2000|By Peter Hermann and Gerard Shields | Peter Hermann and Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

On the surface, everything seemed fine on the fifth floor of Police Headquarters. Commissioner Ronald L. Daniel was working 18-hour days to restructure his department and make his hometown city a safer place to live.

Col. Bert L. Shirey saw Daniel on Tuesday and described him as "cordial." He said, "I detected no strain at all."

It was all a facade.

Daniel and Mayor Martin O'Malley had been feuding since January. The impatient mayor wanted to move quickly on his consultants' crime-fighting ideas. The studious police commissioner wasn't sure they could work.

Talks escalated into shouting matches. O'Malley said yesterday that Daniel had offered to resign several times over the past three months, before his confirmation in February, and each time he refused to accept.

O'Malley said he went late Thursday afternoon to Daniel's office at Police Headquarters in a last-ditch effort to persuade him to sign off on the long-delayed plan. After talking for 50 minutes, Daniel refused and again offered to step down, the mayor said.

This time, O'Malley accepted.

No one yelled. The two friends realized that their fractured relationship was beyond repair. "In the end, it was a sad resignation," O'Malley said.

Though the disagreements had been simmering for months, the outcome of that meeting stunned the city's political and law enforcement communities. It happened so fast that O'Malley didn't have time to send up warning flares.

Councilman Bernard C. "Jack" Young, chairman of the public safety committee, was flagged down by the mayor on North Charles Street. Shirey, whose office is 30 feet from Daniel's, got the news from a reporter.

Daniel told his top aides and took his son to a professional wrestling match at the Baltimore Arena. The rest of his staff received official word yesterday.

"Oh my God," exclaimed Jean Yarborough, president of the Park Heights Networking Community Council. "I just met with this gentleman last Friday, and I thought we finally got somebody who really is going to take this city by storm."

How Daniel, a 26-year veteran of the city force, lost a job he had coveted all his life in less than two months is a study of personality and conviction that goes far beyond a simple disagreement over how to wage a war on crime.

Daniel has declined to discuss the issues that led to his resignation.

Friends said yesterday that he had problems with the confidential consultants' report that advocated an aggressive New York policing style that has been blamed for sanctioning abuse.

Others close to Daniel said he had trouble signing off on a plan that he did not participate in drafting, and for which he would be responsible for defending and held accountable when something went wrong.

Operational concerns

O'Malley offered another reason yesterday.

He said that Daniel had "operational" concerns -- everything from the allocation of desks, the posting of crime statistics on the Internet and the pairing of officers in patrol cars.

City Hall sources said Daniel rejected point after point in the draft version of the 120-page report by Jack Maple and John Linder, which is to be a bible for reform.

Of the 87 suggestions for reducing crime, Daniel rejected half, the sources said.

The principles of the Maple plan are not secret. They have been implemented in various forms in cities from New Orleans to Boston, and Maple outlines them in his book, "The Crime Fighter," which the mayor said he and Daniel have read twice.

O'Malley conceded that a miscommunication occurred with Daniel over how much influence the consultants would have in the department. "I guess he didn't understand that, and I probably did not make a full explanation of it," he said.

"Neither of us intended this to fail."

The mayor strongly denied that he hired Daniel as a figurehead to put a black face on a controversial crime-fighting plan. "If I was looking for a potted plant, Ron Daniel is the last guy I would choose for the job," he said. "He is a strong-willed individual."

Warning signs

But warning signs of impending disaster seemed everywhere. O'Malley hired the $2,000-a-day consultants before he chose a leader for his department. Then Edward T. Norris, a top police official from New York who had worked closely with Maple, was hired as a deputy commissioner.

In January, O'Malley sent a strong public message to Daniel, chastising the police force for not moving fast enough to attack crime.

An angry Daniel called the mayor's press secretary the next day and screamed at him.

This week, the mayor apologized for being late to a group of business leaders by saying he was busy saving his consultants from his police commissioner's wrath. The story became public. "You could see the writing on the wall," a police commander said.

O'Malley had repeatedly called Daniel his most important Cabinet choice, and he said yesterday that he talked with his commissioner every day by phone and met with him almost as many times.

The mayor said he thought he and Daniel could work through their problems, which grew so tense that last month, sources said, Daniel called an intermediary and said he had resigned; O'Malley called the same person and angrily countered, "No, I fired him."

But through it all, Daniel and O'Malley acted as if nothing was wrong. Daniel even attended a recent Fraternal Order of Police meeting, in which he stood before a group of rank-and-file officers and fielded questions for 90 minutes.

It was the first time a commissioner had stood in the union hall in 35 years, and he got a standing ovation when he finished.

Thursday night, one of the first people Daniel called was the union president, Gary McLhinney, who was at a national board meeting in Chicago.

"He told me to thank officers for their effort and their hard work," McLhinney said.

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