Daniel's ouster is O'Malley's first crisis

Inevitable clash: Mayor's passion to run police department made commissioner's job difficult.

April 01, 2000

BALTIMORE'S out-of-control homicide rate has claimed a high-visibility victim: Police Commissioner Ronald L. Daniel was ousted after only 57 days on the job.

The resignation of the African-American chief is the O'Malley's administration's first major crisis. The next few days will test the very cohesion of the interracial coalition that last year enabled Martin O'Malley -- a white city councilman -- to be elected mayor in this majority-black city.

Mr. Daniel resigned because he didn't want to be a figurehead. He felt he was reduced to that role because the mayor consistently supported the ideas of a group of New York consultants -- rather than Mr. Daniel -- in setting Baltimore's crimefighting policies and priorities.

At their recommendation, the mayor even hired a New York deputy commissioner, Edward T. Norris, to run Baltimore's day-to-day patrol operations. Mr. Norris, who was a finalist for Baltimore's top police job when it went to Mr. Daniel, thus became the consultants' eyes and ears at police headquarters. Who would want to be chief under those circumstances? So, to a large degree, self-respect demanded that Mr. Daniel not hang around to play in a crossfire between an assertive mayor and an eager underling.

Mr. Daniel also did not have numbers on his side: Though several open-air drug markets were shut down, Baltimore's homicides remain out of control. Just last weekend, five people were killed in the city.

During last year's election campaign, Mr. O'Malley overcame his underdog status by promising to shutter open-air drug markets and reduce homicides from the current 300-plus a year to 175 by 2002. His clashes with Mr. Daniel prove he is single-minded about realizing those goals.

Now, it's up to Mayor O'Malley to move quickly to find a permanent successor to Mr. Daniel. His press conference yesterday showed that he has the support of the City Council majority in that endeavor.

The police force has been through so much change recently that any protracted loss of direction could harm the department irreparably.

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