Norris defends anti-crime plan

Council panel makes no recommendation on nomination of chief

May 03, 2000|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Insisting he is the "right man at the right time," police commissioner nominee Edward T. Norris defended his strategy to restore order to Baltimore's streets at a sometimes hostile City Council committee hearing yesterday.

"I have the energy necessary to get this done," said Norris, a former deputy police commissioner in New York City.

Appearing before the Executive Appointments Committee, Norris sought to address concerns that the assertive policing plan he advocates for Baltimore led to police abuses in New York.

"I spent most of my time in enforcement duties, and I did it with the respect of the public," Norris said of his 20-year career in New York. "I know how to reduce crime."

Norris succinctly summed up his primary mission as ending "the unacceptable level of violence in this city. We need to save lives -- an awful number of lives."

If he fails, Norris urged the council to fire him.

"Police commissioners in America are on probation every single day," he said.

The Rev. Jamal Bryant of West Baltimore urged council members to delay their decision on Norris and avoid what he called a "perfunctory exercise" of confirmation.

"I know Baltimore is not New York," he said, "[and] we don't want to become that."

The five-member committee chaired by Councilman Bernard C. "Jack" Young did not make a recommendation on Norris' nomination yesterday. The panel will forward any decision to the full council for a possible vote Monday evening.

Norris, who was hired as a deputy commissioner, was chosen for the top police position by Mayor Martin O'Malley after the sudden departure of Ronald L. Daniel, who quit in March, after serving 57 days, during a disagreement over the policing plan.

It appears that Norris has the votes, and the support, needed to be confirmed. He has appeared at two community forums, met with dozens of neighborhood groups and published his 152-page crime plan on the Internet.

Council President Sheila Dixon said her office has received 249 calls and 93 letters or e-mails in favor of Norris, compared with 30 calls and eight letters against.

During the past several weeks, many residents have expressed concern that aggressive policing would lead to brutality and increased stops of minorities.

Several council members questioned Norris, who is white, about his commitment to community policing and civil rights.

State Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV, who represents West Baltimore, urged the council to oppose Norris' confirmation because of reports that people in New York get arrested for such minor violations as double-parking and not having a bell on their bicycles.

During the hearing, critics and supporters of Norris from out of town debated the merits of how to best police Baltimore.

A New Jersey police sergeant, who heads a group called Black Cops Against Abuse, urged the council to reject Norris, saying the strategies he advocates target minority neighborhoods.

Then, several New York police officers defended their former boss. Detective Sonny Archer, who is black, said he believes in the policing plan and in Norris.

"In the past eight years, we have turned New York around," said Archer, who denied that the department targets only minority neighborhoods. "New York policing is based on where the crime is."

Norris found local support from the Rev. Harley Wilson of West Baltimore.

"I am willing to pay the price," Wilson said. "I support Ed Norris. All of us in Baltimore knows what needs to be done. I think we can have zero tolerance and uphold citizens' rights."

Norris got into a testy exchange with Councilwoman Lisa Stancil, who demanded he turn over his personnel file from New York. She said residents need to be assured that nothing in his past links him to what she called "rampant corruption and brutality" in the New York Police Department.

Norris termed her comments "outrageous" and pointed out that while the number of officers in New York increased from 24,000 in 1990 to 40,000 last year, excessive force complaints decreased from 3,500 to 2,400 and police-involved shootings dropped from 41 to 11 during the period.

"I do not believe that indicates a police department that is out of control," Norris said.

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