Clark says his top target will be city's drug corners

O'Malley introduces pick for police commissioner

confirmation expected

January 25, 2003|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's new police commissioner, a blunt-spoken Bronx cop who headed New York City's drug enforcement, said yesterday that his top priority will be forming tightly focused neighborhood squads to force dealers off city corners.

"Baltimore is at a crossroads between returning to its past or pushing on into its future," said Kevin P. Clark, 46, a former deputy chief in New York. "I believe that, with the help of my fellow officers, I can steer us toward the mayor's goal of making this a safer city. And I'm very happy to be here."

Mayor Martin O'Malley introduced Clark to a City Hall news conference yesterday, striding into the crowded ceremonial room as an Irish reel drummed in the background.

With passion in his voice, and a few bursts of applause from city officials, O'Malley pledged to continue driving down violent crime, which fell 30 percent under former Commissioner Edward T. Norris.

Norris resigned last month after almost three years in office to become state police superintendent.

O'Malley said shutting down open-air drug markets is one goal his administration has failed to fully achieve:

"This is an important day in the continuing struggle, odyssey, journey of Baltimore becoming the safest big city in America. We are off to a great start. ... And we are going to continue to bring about the transformation of our police department."

If approved by the City Council, Clark will take the helm of the police department at a time when O'Malley, facing re-election next year, is drawing criticism because the murder rate reductions have slowed since his first year in office.

City Council President Sheila Dixon said she believes the council will confirm Clark more quickly than it approved Norris, another New Yorker who was subjected to an intense grilling.

"He [Clark] seems to be very committed," said Dixon. "Being an African-American in the New York City Police Department, and moving up through the ranks so quickly, he must be an extraordinary person."

Clark, a native of the Bronx, served for 22 years with the New York police. Before becoming deputy chief of the narcotics division last year, he was a commanding officer of the Bronx's 44th precinct; lieutenant in the internal affairs bureau; sergeant and patrol officer, in addition to other posts.

O'Malley said he interviewed three candidates before selecting Clark, deciding against Acting Cmmissioner John McEntee - a 30-year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department whom O'Malley praised as "a soldier and a warrior" - and a third, unidentified candidate from out of town.

The mayor said he met Clark on Dec. 27 in New York City, about a week after Norris stepped down. O'Malley said he was introduced to Clark by crime-fighting consultant John Linder, who worked with Jack Maple to design zero-tolerance policing systems in Baltimore, New Orleans, Newark, N.J., and other cities.

O'Malley said Norris played no role in selecting his replacement.

"The last time I spoke to Commissioner Norris was right after ... he left without giving any notice," the mayor said, a trace of anger in his voice.

O'Malley said Clark accepted a salary of $150,000 per year, $13,000 a year more than Norris earned. But Clark will not get Norris' severance deal - a full year's salary, plus an added $100,000 if Norris had remained another year - which several City Council members complained was overly generous.

Instead, Clark will receive a $75,000 severance check only if he's forced out.

O'Malley said he chose another New Yorker because he wanted to continue the tough, smart, New York-style police tactics - which use computer systems to target high-crime areas with more officers - that Norris brought to the city.

And O'Malley said he doesn't know of many other police departments that have shown as much progress against the kind of serious narcotics dealing that burdens Baltimore.

"We are dealing with a culture" that accepts dealers, O'Malley said. "Why have we deified the thugs out on the corner? Are they so much more resilient than the thugs that used to rule large parts of New York City? No, they aren't."

City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. said he hopes Clark will continue the solid crime reductions begun by Norris. "We just need to make sure we have someone who is committed to the city and won't leave a year later," he said.

"What is this, the third police commissioner under O'Malley?" said Harris, including in his count former Commissioner Ronald L. Daniel, who served before Norris but left after only two months in office.

Several people at the news conference joked about Clark's thick Bronx accent.

"Are you going to give up your New York accent for a Baltimore accent?" a reporter asked.

Clark smiled, joking that he might. "And I'll give up my Giants cap for a Ravens cap."

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