City and state move closer on pact for police

Troopers would be given powers in Baltimore

Help sought `as soon as possible'

Areas include auto theft, juveniles, fugitives, traffic

January 30, 2003|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

City and state police officials are moving quickly to sign an agreement to allow state troopers to conduct operations in Baltimore in the areas of juvenile justice, traffic enforcement and fugitive and auto theft task forces, Mayor Martin O'Malley said yesterday.

"We're anxious to get any help we can get from the state," O'Malley said in an interview. He said he would like the troopers involved in the city "as soon as possible."

State police involvement in the city has been the source of political and legal turf battles for years because of concern that the troopers might lack the sensitivity and training needed to handle urban crime. Troopers have played minimal roles in city law enforcement since 1994, when then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer used them in an ill-fated raid on The Block.

But now, as drug-related crime and gun violence continue to trouble the city, the use of the state police is finding growing support.

Del. Tony E. Fulton, once an opponent of troopers in Baltimore, introduced a bill in this year's General Assembly to expand state police authority in the city. The reports of state troopers profiling African-Americans to make traffic stops troubled Fulton in the past, but he said he now believes the extra help is needed.

"For six years I was opposed to it," the Baltimore Democrat said. "I was adamantly against the state police coming into the city. I just lost faith in the city Police Department. I just have the confidence that state police have better training, better skills to deal with these crimes."

Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, chairman of the city Senate delegation, said violence in the city warrants a new approach to solving the crime problems. He said state lawmakers will take a look at the agreement the city and state police draft, but he will support the effort, if the mayor and police want the help.

"Just end the madness," said McFadden, also a Democrat. "A person is shot almost every day. Narcotics is the problem, and the people involved are getting younger and younger."

Maryland law allows the state troopers to work with local police provided there is a memorandum of understanding between the agencies. State law specifically prohibits troopers from making traffic stops in Baltimore, but officials from the city and the state say they are prepared to change that law, too.

The mayor said Acting Commissioner John McEntee and state police Superintendent Col. Edward T. Norris are drafting the memorandum of understanding. He said he hopes to have an agreement by the time the new commissioner, Kevin P. Clark, is expected to begin next month.

The mayor first sought the state's help after Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. tapped Norris to head the state police.

Norris said that he and O'Malley had a conversation after the appointment in which the mayor asked him to provide some state support for the city -- a strategy opposed by Norris' predecessor in the state police, Col. David B. Mitchell.

Norris said Ehrlich wants more of a working relationship between city and state.

"My charge from the governor was to help Baltimore City out," he said.

Ehrlich has said that he wants to provide the city with all the support possible in the fight against crime. The governor blamed politics for preventing the city from gaining the resources of the state police.

"The real issue here is how can you increase your law enforcement presence," Ehrlich said. He said whatever needs to be resolved, "we'll get it done."

Norris said he believes the possibilities are even greater with O'Malley's appointment last week of Clark as police commissioner. Norris, who also came to Baltimore from New York, said he and Clark are good friends who will work well together. "We will help out any way we can," he said.

In an effort to earn good will with Norris, city police allowed the new superintendent to keep using his city police driver at the city's expense on a temporary basis. The driver, Agent Thomas Tobin, returned to city work late last week.

Some state lawmakers have tried for years to remove the prohibition on traffic stops in the city by troopers, but they failed session after session.

Part of the problem stemmed from criticism by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Baltimore politicians about the use of profiling by state police. The NAACP and others criticized the state police for targeting African-American motorists along Interstate 95 for traffic stops.

The other concern was the problems that resulted from the 1994 state police raid of The Block, during which dozens of dancers and employees at the strip clubs were arrested. At the time, Schaefer was targeting prostitution and drug sales.

Afterward, allegations were raised that during the investigation, two troopers had sex with a prostitute and a third shared a hotel room with a potential subject of the investigation.

But officials believe a solid agreement and coordination will avoid the problems of the past. They said the city has a resource in the state police that remains underutilized because dozens of troopers live in Baltimore.

"It is important that it be done well," O'Malley said.

O'Malley said the troopers could play a role in security during sporting events at Oriole Park at Camden Yards and Ravens Stadium.

Sun staff writer Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this article.

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