Norris hears from residents at forum

He outlines plan for fighting crime

April 27, 2000|By Mark Ribbing | Mark Ribbing,SUN STAFF

Acting police Commissioner Edward T. Norris ran into a little bit of everything last night as he presented himself and his crime-fighting plan at a forum in North Baltimore.

Some spectators in the auditorium at City College welcomed Norris and told him that they did not care about extraneous issues -- only whether he can get the job done.

"I welcome you to the city. I look forward to being free to walk in my community," Zatella Giles, a retiree, told Norris.

Others in the audience challenged him about what they termed a brutal New York Police Department, where Norris had worked for 20 years before coming to Baltimore to serve as deputy police commissioner.

Norris became acting commissioner after Mayor Martin O'Malley's first commissioner, Ronald L. Daniel, resigned on March 30.

Sharing the stage with leading department officials and members of the City Council, Norris began his presentation with a slide show, laying out the main points of the O'Malley administration's crime reduction plan.

Several in the crowd murmured assent as he discussed the problems facing the city and the plan's solutions.

Norris told the predominantly black audience that 275 of the 311 homicide victims in 1999 were African-American, and he called Baltimore's persistently high violent crime rate "a crisis" that contributes directly to the city's social and economic troubles.

"Everything's going in the wrong direction," Norris said. "Crime's going up, and people are leaving."

Norris sought to assure the crowd that the Police Department is aware of its failings, including the fear and distrust many residents hold for officers. He said the example of Officer Kevon Gavin, a policeman who died April 21 from injuries he sustained when his squad car was hit by a fleeing suspect, "speaks volumes of the good police officers who want to do something."

When Norris finished his remarks, there was no applause, and a line of 18 spectators immediately formed at a microphone in front of the stage.

The first two speakers strongly criticized Norris' former employer, with one man calling the New York Police Department "No. 1 in police brutality."

When another speaker said Norris' departure from New York for Baltimore was "like getting out of a Cadillac and getting into a Volkswagen" and asked him if he came to Baltimore expecting to quickly replace Daniel, Norris earned his first solid applause of the night by saying, "I don't view this city as a Volkswagen. I like it here."

When asked how long it would take for the new plan to reduce crime, Norris replied, "You'll probably see it in the next 24 months. You'll see it happen over this year and next year."

At a few points during the evening, members of the audience mentioned the name of Amadou Diallo, an immigrant from Guinea who was shot to death on Feb. 4, 1999, outside his Bronx apartment building by New York police officers when they mistook his wallet for a gun.

Norris responded to a question about the Diallo shooting by saying he believed the public had convicted the officers before they were tried and found not guilty in February. One man in the crowd replied, "What's not fair is Amadou Diallo being shot 41 times and getting hit 19 times."

Norris quietly said, "Yes, sir," and awaited the next question.

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