Norris to lead city police

Former strategist on New York force named commissioner

Aggressive tactics feared

O'Malley spends day allaying concerns, gains council support

April 05, 2000|By Peter Hermann and Gerard Shields | Peter Hermann and Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's mayor named Edward T. Norris police commissioner yesterday after a frantic day of politicking intended to deflect concerns from a wary public that civil rights will be trampled in a New York-style battle against crime.

Mayor Martin O'Malley hailed Norris, who was hired in January as the department's chief deputy, as a key strategist to quickly implement a new blueprint for restoring order "in every neighborhood in this city."

Police officers, Norris, said, "want to do their job, and their job is to stop the killing. We are going to do that by winning the respect of the people. There is no shroud of secrecy in this police department."

Yesterday's late afternoon announcement at police headquarters was preceded by hours of behind-the-scenes meetings. O'Malley took Norris and the plan -- in the form of a 152-page book -- to Annapolis Monday night, went on a radio call-in show yesterday morning and then lobbied the City Council over lunch.

The effort was designed in part to allay concerns raised in some city neighborhoods and by some politicians about a white mayor appointing a white police commissioner in a majority black city.

A deeper concern expressed by many people was over the possibility that Norris, a former commander in New York, would promote aggressive policing of the kind that has caused a furor there.

By the end of the day, there appeared to be sufficient support among the 19 council members for Norris to be confirmed. Those leaving the closed-door luncheon said O'Malley had made a convincing pitch.

Council President Sheila Dixon urged colleagues to focus on "the plan, not the man" but added that "we have to make sure that everyone understands the plan because we all have a stake in the process."

Norris named a new command staff yesterday that includes three African-American officers, including the new deputy commissioner of operations, Barry W. Powell, who will implement the new crime-fighting strategies as the department's second-in-command.

Some black residents have been pushing for Powell to be commissioner, and in Annapolis yesterday an unsigned paper describing the racial makeup of the top of the department circulated among legislators.

"I know we are in good hands," said Powell, a 29-year veteran who will supervise all street operations, the heart of the department's crime-fighting strategy.

City Council members feeling pressure from some constituents to oppose O'Malley urged him to get out into neighborhoods to put residents at ease.

Many members said they would withhold support for the plan, and for Norris, until they have a chance to read it and discuss it in the community.

"People seem to be behind [Norris] after they hear the plan," West Baltimore City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. At last night's City Council meeting, he added: "There is nothing in the plan about zero tolerance."

Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a key adviser to O'Malley, stood behind the mayor. "Whoever he appoints to provide the leadership in public safety management in the city is his responsibility," he said.

Norris, 40, was the chief architect of New York's policing strategy, which was credited with reducing homicides, but also blamed for setting a tone that sanctioned police abuse.

Norris was hired to be chief deputy under Commissioner Ronald L. Daniel, who abruptly resigned last week when he split with O'Malley over how to implement crime-fighting strategies.

At a news conference yesterday, Norris answered questions about how he will fight crime by reciting disturbing statistics to show how violent Baltimore is and why decisive action is needed to make the streets safer.

He noted that of the 310 homicides last year, 34 of the victims were children. "It's a very dangerous place," he said of his new city. "That's the problem."

City Hall officials acknowledge that Norris has been too busy reforming the department to meet citizens. That will change in the coming weeks with a full-scale public relations tour.

O'Malley said he will formally submit Norris' name to the City Council on April 17, and a hearing could be held next month.

The delay is to give the city's elected leaders and the public time to digest the crime-fighting plan -- which will be posted on the Internet this week -- and meet Norris. O'Malley urged residents to get behind their police force, saying officers can reduce crime "if they have the support of the people they serve."

Daniel's resignation after serving only 57 days and the elevation of Norris to the top police post have led to days of fierce rhetoric. Hundreds of citizens attended a church rally in West Baltimore Monday night, called on Norris to resign and repeated the charges that Daniel was a figurehead chosen to appease the black community.

Daniel has been publicly silent on why he stepped down, prompting speculation that he objected to O'Malley's so-called "zero-tolerance" approach. The mayor said he differed with Daniel only on the pace of reforms.

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