Overtime for aides of Norris: $250,000

Records for 5 detectives cover an 18-month period

`They are more than drivers'

Some council members call for an investigation

August 19, 2002|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris' five-member security and investigative detail earned about $250,000 in overtime during a recent 18-month period, including $67,000 paid to his driver.

The driver, Thomas Tobin, is a central figure in a controversy surrounding the use of an off-the-books account by Norris and his aides to finance $178,000 in expenses, ranging from meals to trips to New York. It is not clear how much Tobin or other aides earned in overtime on such trips.

Mayor Martin O'Malley said last week that an independent auditor will investigate the use of the long-secret account, which was funded largely by stocks acquired decades ago. O'Malley could not be reached for comment about the overtime.

Disclosure of the overtime payments - made in response to The Sun's request for the records - is provoking more criticism of Norris. Some City Council members said the payments were excessive and that they should be examined.

But Norris said his detail of detectives protects him and his family in response to dozens of threats. He pointed out that he often works 12- to 14-hour days and goes into unsafe neighborhoods. His detail performs other important tasks, Norris said, including rushing to shooting scenes and other incidents to give reports to headquarters. They also handle sensitive investigations, reporting directly to the commissioner.

"I'm running a big city police department," Norris said in an interview last week. "They are more than drivers; they are aides. They do work for me; they do investigations for me. They are investigative aides."

The Sun requested overtime records from the beginning of last year and received data through June 30 of this year. Tobin, whose annual salary is $53,000, logged 1,228 hours of overtime last year and 596 hours in the first six months of this year. Most others in the detail, whose membership sometimes changes, earn more than $50,000 a year and thousands more in overtime.

Council members expressed surprise at the amount of overtime earned by Norris' detectives.

"It's very troubling. Very, very troubling," said Councilman Kwame Osayaba Abayomi, chairman of the council's Public Safety Committee.

The overtime costs raise questions about Norris' management style, Abayomi said, adding that the audit of the off-the-books account "might need to be expanded to include" the commissioner's office.

Councilmen Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., Bernard C. "Jack" Young and Kenneth N. Harris Sr. also said the overtime costs need to be examined.

"In terms of security details, that's too much in overtime," Mitchell said. "It's something that concerns me."

However, Robert L. Oatman, president of R.L. Oatman and Associates, a Towson-based executive protection firm, said that Norris is a high-profile figure who needs security and that the overtime costs were likely justified.

"I wouldn't be the commissioner driving by myself going into those areas," said Oatman, a former Baltimore County police major.

Oatman also said Norris' detectives do more than shadow the commissioner from event to event. They investigate crimes and are trusted aides - a system that mirrors one in the New York Police Department, where high-ranking officials have much larger details.

"They are not just sitting around," Oatman said.

Norris explained that it was more efficient to pay overtime to the five detectives on his detail than add officers to it.

"I don't want to take them off of the streets," Norris said.

In addition to Tobin, other officers on the detail accumulated substantial overtime. Among the highest earners are Michael Mancuso and Sean Harrison, who made $25,374 and $20,207, respectively, in overtime during the first six months of this year. Another is Anthony Barksdale, an officer recently promoted to major, who made $32,000 in overtime last year.

Police union officials said the officers deserved the overtime.

"Criminals don't work eight hours a day," said Gary McLhinney, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3. "Norris is out there. They have to be out there with him. Overtime is cheaper than paying for extra cops."

Norris' five-member detail is one of the most extensive used by a Baltimore police commissioner.

Still, overtime for Norris' detachment of detectives is a tiny portion of the department's overtime budget. Last fiscal year, the department exceeded its $11 million overtime allotment by $5.8 million. And other detectives in the department earn more than those in Norris' detachment, some making about $60,000 a year for extra duty, police officials said.

The audit of the off-the-books police account will examine the spending of Norris and his aides, particularly Tobin.

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