O'Malley taps N.Y. veteran to lead police

As commander, Clark oversaw big drop in crime

`Competent, bright, articulate'

Move by mayor shocks some officers, officials

January 24, 2003|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley is expected to announce today that Kevin P. Clark, a veteran New York police commander who specialized in fighting drug trafficking and oversaw some of the most crime-ridden precincts, will be the next city police commissioner.

O'Malley declined to comment last night, but sources close to the mayor said the choice will be announced at an 11 a.m. news conference at City Hall. The decision surprised many inside and outside the department who expected O'Malley to stick with acting Commissioner John McEntee, a department veteran. McEntee succeeded Edward T. Norris when he left this month to become Maryland's state police superintendent.

However, O'Malley felt the department needed a jolt to continue reducing crime and decided that going outside the force was the best way to stay on track, according to sources close to the mayor.

A 22-year New York police veteran, Clark most recently was deputy chief of his department's narcotics division and oversaw about 2,400 supervisors, detectives and civilians.

Clark, 46, who declined to comment yesterday, was characterized by colleagues and community leaders in his former precincts in the Bronx as a crime-fighter and civic activist.

"He has a tremendous background," said Daniel Mullin, a former New York police supervisor. "He's very competent, very bright and very articulate. He has a lot of credibility with the cops. He's effective, and cops work for him."

Clark will be taking over a department that faces stiff challenges. Despite major reductions in crime, Baltimore remains one of the most deadly and violent cities in the country.

And Clark will be coming on board as the department could face a tightening budget, which will likely curtail many overtime details that have helped keep the lid on crime in some of Baltimore's toughest neighborhoods.

In O'Malley, the new commissioner will be working for a demanding boss whose political credibility is dependent on keeping his pledge to substantially reduce crime. Adding to the pressure is that the New York native will be leading a force where many were hoping to see McEntee remain as commissioner, or if not him, someone else from within the Baltimore ranks.

"I'm disturbed," said Officer Jeffrey Redd, president of the Vanguard Justice Society, an advocacy group of about 600 black city officers. "We have qualified people within the department that can do the job, and the mayor has gone outside again. They are more than qualified. I don't know this man or what he plans to do. None of us do."

City Councilman Bernard C. "Jack" Young, chairman of the executive appointments committee that must approve the new commissioner, said he was surprised by O'Malley's choice and had been prepared to support McEntee's permanent appointment. McEntee is expected to return to his old job as deputy commissioner of operations.

"I thought the mayor was looking inside the department for a commissioner," Young said. "However, he's the mayor. He based his whole campaign on reducing crime and homicides, and he has the right to choose who he wants as police commissioner. I'm not going to fight him."

Some inside the Baltimore department questioned whether Clark is ready to lead a major city police department with 3,000 members. He has been running day-to-day operations of New York's 2,400-member drug division for six months. Before that, he oversaw two pre- cincts of several hundred officers.

But Clark's former colleagues and supervisors say inexperience will not be an obstacle. They described him as a hard-working, energetic officer who quickly won the loyalty of his troops and support of the community in every assignment he's had.

"He has terrific NYPD experience," said Howard Safir, a former New York police commissioner. "He hasn't commanded a whole department, but I don't think that's a big leap."

Born and raised in the Bronx, Clark joined the New York department in 1981 and spent substantial time in its narcotics units, colleagues said.

In the mid-1990s, as a lieutenant in South Manhattan, he quickly earned the admiration of commanders, former supervisors said.

Louis R. Anemone, a former high-ranking New York commander who ran day-to-day operations, said he was impressed by Clark's poise and knowledge during weekly crime-trend meetings in the mid-1990s.

"He acquitted himself very well," Anemone said. "He understood crime issues. He explained himself."

Clark was promoted to captain in 1997 and assigned to the 47th Precinct in the North Bronx, a 5.5-square-mile area with 130,000 residents that Anemone said was one of the toughest beats in the city. Clark soon was given command of the precinct, where he oversaw a substantial decrease in crime, statistics show.

During the next three years, overall crime in the precinct fell about 26 percent, although the homicide rate remained relatively steady.

Clark was promoted to inspector in late 2000 and assigned to the 44th Precinct in the Southwest Bronx, an area of 1.9 square miles and 125,000 residents. There, he also oversaw a substantial drop in crime, although homicides spiked during his tenure, statistics show.

In June 2002, Clark was promoted to deputy chief of the agency's narcotics division.

During Clark's assignments as a precinct commander, colleagues and residents said he had a reputation for getting things done and earning the respect of officers.

"When he came to the precinct, morale was down and crime was up," said Elizabeth Gill, president of 47th Precincts' community council board and a close friend of Clark's. "When he left, crime was down and morale was wonderful among police officers and the community."

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