Edward T. Norris, the brash New York police commander who came to Baltimore and re-engineered the city's approach to crime-fighting, stunned many officials and his 3,300-member force yesterday by accepting the job as Maryland's next state police superintendent.
Norris, 42, who weathered occasional public relations controversies during his three-year Baltimore tenure, has been lauded by some as having posted reductions in crime that are among the nation's most impressive and for beginning a turnaround of the troubled Baltimore Police Department.
While some city leaders saw Norris' sudden departure as a betrayal, most, including the mayor, said they were disappointed to lose an effective commissioner. Under the terms of his contract, Norris will receive a $137,000 severance payment - the amount of his salary - and $6,850 a year for life.
"Whenever you have worked with someone and gone through so much with someone - seven police officer funerals, the grueling confirmation process ... it's difficult to lose them," Mayor Martin O'Malley said yesterday. "But you can't take it personally when somebody gets a better job opportunity for their future and their family."
Norris joined the city force in early 2000 to help reshape the department, refocus its crime-fighting strategies and improve morale. During his tenure, the city recorded a 29 percent reduction in crimes overall and a 28 percent drop in violent crimes. Baltimore's annual homicide rate fell below 300 for the first time in a decade.
But Norris has been criticized as being an absentee leader and for excessive spending from an off-the-books expense account.
An independent audit of the fund released last month found major lapses in oversight and determined that Norris and his staff used the money for questionable purchases. Norris has agreed to pay back $6,000, including money he spent on a trip to New York to attend a funeral and interview for another job.
Norris will be taking over an agency with about 1,600 troopers spread across the state. Troopers in the Baltimore-Washington area focus on traffic enforcement, a far different mission than Norris has undertaken in New York or Baltimore.
Norris could not be reached for comment yesterday, and members of Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s transition team declined to discuss their choice. Ehrlich is expected to announce the appointment at a news conference today at state police headquarters in Pikesville.
O'Malley expressed regret at losing Norris and pledged to continue the department's rigorous program of crime analysis called Compstat, a concept Norris brought to Baltimore from New York. The mayor said he wants to look inside the department for Norris' replacement.
"It's about the plan, not the man," said O'Malley, who confirmed Norris' move yesterday in a news release.
City police commanders and leaders in the O'Malley administration will begin meeting soon to determine who will take over the department. The apparent front-runner is Deputy Commissioner John McEntee, 48, a 30-year veteran who has risen quickly in recent years from commander of the Northwestern District to second in command of daily operations.
McEntee said yesterday that he is sad to see Norris go, because the commissioner is an able leader who transformed a department racked by sagging morale and ineffectiveness.
"Ed Norris spent three years putting together a good, solid team," McEntee said. "He leaves behind a Police Department much better than the one when he arrived."
Current and former top police officials said McEntee's exemplary work ethic, easy-going style and knowledge of the city's crime-fighting tactics would be hard for O'Malley to ignore.
Among the names of other potential candidates being circulated at police headquarters and City Hall are Deputy Commissioner of Administration Kenneth Blackwell; Lt. Col. Stanford Franklin, a former state trooper in charge of the department's training division; and Col. Robert M. Stanton, who supervises detectives.
Even as officials begin gearing up for a new police commissioner, many city leaders expressed unhappiness that Norris is leaving. The former high-ranking New York City police commander has overseen a 28-percent reduction in violent crime since joining the Baltimore force nearly three years ago, and many said they believe Norris could accomplish more in Baltimore than in the state police.
After falling below 300 in 2000, the city's homicide rate has remained fairly steady and is still perceived as one of Baltimore's biggest problems. Statistically, Baltimore is the most violent and second-most deadly of the 25 largest U.S. cities.