Chief sorry for spending controversy I am writing to...

SATURDAY MAILBOX

August 24, 2002

Chief sorry for spending controversy

I am writing to apologize profoundly to the members of my department, to the mayor who brought me to this city and to the people of Baltimore who have looked to me to help protect their lives and their property.

I have embarrassed and raised questions in the minds of many by my handling of the commissioner's expense account that was started decades ago through private donations and has been administered with broad discretion by different commissioners for much of the last 20 years. I should have treated the fund from the start as a public fund, even though it was not and never has been a public fund. Had I done this, we would have full and complete records of how the money was used, erasing all doubt about how and for what purposes it might have been spent.

As it was, the money was spent largely for training, recruiting, meetings with police officials here and in other parts of the country, travel related to these functions, and gifts for members of the department and visitors. If the audit Mayor Martin O'Malley has ordered finds personal or improper expenditures charged to the account, I will reimburse the fund.

Furthermore, I apologize to the members of my security detail, whose actions and overtime were earned legitimately in response to my direction, and have been called into question by my handling of this matter.

In particular, Agent Thomas Tobin, often cited in the media as my intermediary to the account, was simply trying to facilitate my travel arrangements and purchases of equipment and gifts for employees and visitors. I told him to make these transactions in cash, because neither he nor I could carry these expenses on our personal credit cards and we did not have access to a department credit card. I do not offer this as an excuse by any means, but much of our travel was precipitated by the events of Sept. 11 and our need to establish a fast and dependable network with people I know and trust.

It has been particularly painful for me to see Mr. Tobin's integrity questioned. He is a 22-year veteran who has served for more than a decade as a full-duty cop, even after a kidney transplant required medications that caused him to need multiple hip replacements.

He and other members of my detail have earned their overtime not only by staffing my movements inside and outside the city but also by doing one or more of the following: conducting investigations, monitoring crime scenes, apprehending criminal suspects and conducting drug and warrant operations in concert with other units of the department.

Two things happened Aug. 21 that caused me to write this letter. One was the death of yet another courageous police officer, killed while rushing to protect a fellow officer, reminded me that all my actions as police commissioner should be above reproach. The other was a call from a reporter asking whether questions about the fund have distracted me from our all-too-serious daily responsibilities. They have.

I am sorry for my failings as a human being, but I ask for your support in rededicating us all to the fight against the violence that still takes so many lives.

Edward T. Norris

Baltimore

The writer is police commissioner of Baltimore.

Faith groups provide services most effectively

Michele Gilman's article, "Do faith-based services work?" (Aug. 11) wrongly stated that religious groups provide no reliable empirical evidence that their social programs work; that for every success story, there is a horror story; that religious groups providing social services are inexperienced; and that there is little to deter religious groups from engaging in risky behavior.

Such a characterization of religious organizations that provide valuable social services could not be further from the truth.

The truth is that, historically, religious groups of all types have been the pioneers of social work in America. They have always been the most effective providers of such services and, as a whole, are by far the most experienced with them. And there is ample empirical evidence to support that claim.

From time to time, there are horror stories. Ms. Gilman mentioned the Roloff homes as an example of alleged child abuse. And, unfortunately, we're reading a lot about scandals in the Catholic Church.

But we must not allow these horror stories to cloud the fact that for every horror story there are hundreds of success stories.

To say otherwise is truly an offense to thousands of hardworking, compassionate people who work as board members, staff members and volunteers in thousands of religious nonprofits. Those people represent the very best of what our communities are about.

Ms. Gilman says "there is little to deter these institutions from engaging in risky behavior." But let's remember that these are religious organizations. While imperfections do exist, most of these groups are governed by people with the laws of God in their hearts.

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